NOIR CRIME THRILLER EXPOSES THE DARK UNDERBELLY OF
NEWARK, NJ THROUGH THE EYES OF THREE GENERATIONS IN 1945
We live in a world torn apart by urban unrest, rioting, terrorist bombings, religious fanaticism, and military coups that have turned many cities into vast wastelands. The international questions arise time and time again, “How, and why, did all of this happen?”
Offering an extensive look inside the history and urban problems — and how they began — in post-World War II Newark, New Jersey like never before, author Steve Bassett releases the first in the trilogy, Father Divine’s Bikes [BookBaby, April 2, 2018]. In this noir crime thriller, Bassett melds character, time and place into a mosaic that uncovers the plight of a city on a downward spiral immediately after the war, a time when our nation was basking in the afterglow of victory.
A gangster war, three murders, a gun-toting paperboy, and the numbers racket lay bare a dark, compelling story in a world of poverty and hopelessness from which there is little hope of escape. In the autumn of 1945, a battle rages when the city’s competing mobs end their truce. When it gets bloody, other criminal forces are ready to move in. Citywide corruption is endemic. Bookies using Father Divine’s controversial International Peace Mission Movement as a front, recruit two Catholic altar boys, Joey Bancik and Richie Maxwell, to run numbers under the guise of newspaper routes. The boys quickly realize they are players in a dangerous game, but the easy money is too good to pass up. They are now petty criminals and being hauled into juvie court is a risk they’re willing to take. Two homicide detectives track Joey to a luxury apartment, but arrive too late to prevent the inevitable. Joey’s body lay in a pool of blood on the basement floor.
Father Divine’s Bikes offers a rare study of time and place that introduces the reader to a kaleidoscopic cast of disparate characters.
“It is an uncompromising, noir view of a city in agony, sparing no person or institution,” says Bassett. “At the same time, it retains a raw, sharp-edged compassion for the marginalized people who share their souls with the reader.”
A metaphorical work exploring the in-depth urban issues that arose in 1945 Newark, Father Divine’s Bikes reveals:
- Contrasting themes of class and privilege, poverty and wealth, despair and hope
- The growing lack of trust that communities – large and small – have for the police and local officials
- The handmaiden of change is fear of the unknown – it was true in 1945 Newark, and is even more true today
- Crime is in the eye of the beholder – how this is true in every level of society
- Overwhelming acceptance of the status quo exists in every densely populated, crime ridden, poverty stricken inner city in our country
- And, so much more!
Purchase Link: Amazon
The caravan of uniformed veterans, white-gowned sisters, and dark-suited brothers edged its way up the hill. Richie could see that for the people around him, there was no movement, no horde of disgruntled black veterans, but only one drawing card, a small, skin-headed black man in the back seat of the biggest convertible he had ever seen. There were dozens of cops spread out along the route.
The black woman beside Richie was wringing a blue and white handkerchief in her hands. Beads of sweat had formed on her face and her breasts heaved in deep, labored breaths.
“Peace! Peace! Our great Father has given us Peace!” she screamed. “I was a sinful woman, a lustful woman, until Father Divine accepted me!” She was jumping up and down. “Father, father, you’ve shown me the way!”
“It’s the Holy Way, the way to salvation, sister!” a big, Negro man in patched Levi overalls responded with roaring enthusiasm.
Then Richie thought someone had turned a radio on. Glancing at a pocket of dancers on the other side of the street, he realized it wasn’t a radio at all. Their song was contagious.
“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch onto the affirmative, don’t mess with Mr. In-Between. . . oh yeah, don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”
About the Author
Born and raised in Newark’s crime-ridden Third Ward, although far removed during a career as a multiple award-winning journalist, Steve Bassett has always been the proud sobriquet Jersey Guy. He has been legally blind for almost a decade, but this hasn’t slowed him down.
Bassett has written two nonfiction books, The Battered Rich and Golden Ghetto: How the Americans and French Fell In and Out of Love During the Cold War. Continuing with his newest fiction release, Father Divine’s Bikes, readers share in his insights that earned him three Emmys for investigative documentaries, and the California Bar Association’s Medallion Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Administration of Justice. He now resides in Placitas, New Mexico with his wife, Darlene.
For more information, please visit stevebassettworld.com.
Q&A with the Author
Question: What inspired you to write Father Divine’s Bikes?
Well first of all, I’m a born iconoclast, a great starting point for a journalist. Included among my thirty-five years of searching for stories was my six years as an Urban Affairs investigative reporter for the Associated Press. I covered urban unrest extensively. In 1967, Newark was devastated by one of the deadliest race riots during that turbulent decade. Twenty -six persons were killed and entire neighborhoods reduced to ashes, including the one where I grew up. When I returned to Newark and walked up Springfield Avenue, I was sickened by what I saw. Everything was gone. How did this happen? My story takes the reader down the streets of post-World War II Newark when there was time to set things right, but the city blew it.
Question: What sets your book apart from other books about urban, crime, racism, poverty and corruption?
My research shows no other novel explores in-depth the plight of a city on a downward spiral immediately after WWII, a time when our nation was basking in the afterglow of victory while ignoring the cataclysmic changes that were occurring. Among my characters is a three-generation immigrant family who bought into the American dream only to discover that hope can indeed be a charlatan in a world of poverty, crime and corruption.
Question: What do you want readers to take away from the novel?
My novel is a metaphorical work. In 1945, the poor and marginalized are entrapped by circumstances beyond their understanding and control. Their fear of the unknown inevitably turns to hatred. Deeply entrenched white enclaves in factory-belt cities throughout the country were being squeezed by the mass migration of blacks, and escape routes for poor ethnic whites were rapidly closing.
I recognized from the outset the danger of turning my book into a populist screed. Rather than tell the readers what was happening, I wanted to have my characters show them. I did not want to dumb-down the narrative with easy comparisons, just lay the story out and let the reader make the connection based on his/her experiences.
Question: You describe your book as a work of character, time and place. What is the importance of plot?
After almost four decades as a journalist, I consider myself a minimalist as a fiction writer. As an Urban Affairs specialist for the AP, every word was precious if you wanted to get your story on the A-Wire and on the overseas cable. Except when absolutely necessary, you threw out the adverbs and adjectives. I rely on surface description in order to create a work of character, time and place with the plot as the adhesive. W. Somerset Maugham said it best when he described a novel’s plot as merely the skeleton, and it was up to the author to supply the muscles, sinews and vital organs. I want the reader to think for himself, and take up sides without having been provided directions. The ideal story should be loaded with controversy.
Question: What else are you working on? Will there be a sequel?
Father Divine’s Bikes is the first in a trilogy, that when completed, will take the reader on a journey through Newark during the three immediate post-war years. I am well into the sequel and hope to have it ready for publication in early 2019.
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