Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Father and Son Find Themselves on the Road to Perdition

This is a novel with a very unusual history. It began as a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, which was adapted for film, with the screenplay written by David Self. Tom Hanks and Paul Newman starred in the film, which was very good. Collins then wrote a novelization of the screenplay and now has written an expanded novel, which adheres very closely to the movie.

The story is set in Illinois in the early 1930s. The Great Depression is well underway, and times are grim for virtually everyone. One exception seems to be the criminal gangs, which are continuing to prosper at a time when Prohibition is still the law of the land.

A gangster named John Looney controls most of the vice in Rock Island, Illinois, on the Mississippi River, about a hundred and seventy miles directly west of Chicago. Looney runs his empire in league with the Capone organization in Chicago. Michael O'Sullivan is a happily married man and the father of two young boys. O'Sullivan is also a feared enforcer for Looney and is nicknamed "The Angel of Death." Looney looks at O'Sullivan as a surrogate son and spoils O'Sullivans's children as if they were his own grandchildren. The problem arises from the fact that Looney has one real son, a hot headed, self-indulgent jerk known as "Crazy" Connor. 

O'Sullivan's twelve-year-old son, Michael Jr., is curious to know what his father actually does when on his missions for Mr. Looney. A devoted reader of comics, Michael Jr. envisions that his father is some sort of secret agent. One night Michael Jr. hides in his father's car, when Dad leaves on a "mission," and he sees "Crazy" Connor Looney shoot a man to death. Connor turns and sees the boy, and from that moment, everyone's world is thrown into turmoil. In consequence, the O'Sullivans, father and son, find themselves on the deadly road to Perdition in an effort to survive the forces that have suddenly been unleashed against them.

This is a gripping novel that moves at a very quick pace. Collins based the idea on the real-life gangster, John Looney, who did rule a criminal empire in Rock Island in the 1920s. The O'Sullivans are fictional characters and Collins has moved Looney into the 1930s, even though Looney actually fled to New Mexico in the middle Twenties. Still, this is a minor matter in a book like this, and having lived in Rock Island for a number of years, I enjoyed reading about the city and its colorful past. Both the book and the movie will appeal to large numbers of people.

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