Monday, May 23, 2011

77th Ann. of Bonnie & Clyde and a Book Review: “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend”

Well, I was not sure if I would have gotten this review done in time, but I did just in time for the 77th anniversary of the death of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at an ambushed set up by law men from Texas and Louisiana. I am trying to type up the generic scenario for a famous Bonnie & Clyde shootout and hope to get it up on my blog within a few weeks. Be looking out for it.

Book Review: Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend” by Paul Schneider

Why a book on criminals?

I have always been a nut for Film Noir movies/series and Hardboiled detective stories, so I guess it should be expected that I would have an interested in criminal history to go with my love of military history. I have been interested in criminal history from the 1840’s to the 1940’s for years. I read Bryan Burrough’s, “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34(An excellent book and I highly recommend it!) prior to the Johnny Depp’s movie being made and found that my interested in “The War Against Crime” period (1933-34), was seriously ignited above my initial interest in it. (The same thing happened with my interest in 1850’s gangs, when I read Herbert Asbury’s, “Gangs of New York”, before that movie came out. I also highly recommend that book.) While I have since read a couple of books on Dillinger, this is the first book that I have gotten around to reading on Bonnie & Clyde.

General Description

The book itself is 347 pages long, excluding the notes, Acknowledgements, the index, and a nice timeline. There are 23 chapters that are very well done for breaking down the time frame of events. There are 13 B&W photos scattered throughout the book, but mostly in the chapters with discuss the events where the pictures were taken or when they are relevant to the chapter’s topic.

How do I describe this book? I believe the author refers to it as a non-fiction novel. It is different and is usually good, but some parts I find very annoying, which distracts me from enjoying it as a whole.

What is a non-fiction novel? As the author describes, the book is written in a novel style as you follow the two main characters, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow from their childhood up to their death. But it is non-fiction as the author only uses statements and information from police records, newspaper interviews, or family and friend’s statements, photographs, etc. The author built the story around all of this, but never states anything that was questionable as being facts (for example, some of the more earlier crimes that Clyde Barrow was may have been involved with, but there was never any evidence to have confirm that he was involved with it.) Instead the author basically leaves it up to open ended questions for anything that cannot be confirmed in just a way that it can that it addresses all possibilities.

The Good

I found a lot of the information about the pairs’ childhoods and growing up very interesting and quite well done in this book. Some other things that I enjoyed about the book is how the author includes snippets from newspapers and personal accounts, some having no connects to Bonnie or Clyde, to give a more colorful background to the period, places, or events to the background information, like what life was like living in the area where Clyde grew up in Dallas or what life was like in the Texas Prison farms, etc.. I also really enjoy the fact that it also it takes a little look back at the history of Texas Ranger Frank Hamer’s career (but not his childhood or early years) and the Texas justice/penal system to see what kind of man/system that would lead to laying the deadly ambush that killed Bonnie & Clyde. But more then all of this, I found the quotes from Bonnie’s & Clyde’s love letters to each other (and there is quite a few) just amazing on how much they really were in love with each other.
One final thing that I thought that was interesting, and that I did not know about before reading this, actually makes the story of Bonnie Parker that more tragic. Before she met Clyde Barrow, she was a waitress at a café near the Dallas County courthouse and government center. A young Ted Hinton remembers having a crush on her and tried wooing her, along with many other customers at the café. She never took interest in any of them, eventually falls in love with Clyde Barrow and becomes a hunted criminal. Later, Ted Hinton would see Bonnie Parker yet again. The final time was on May 23, 1934, on a lonely road outside of Gibsland, Louisiana, where he is waiting along with five other heavily armed policemen. Dallas County, TX, Deputy Ted Hinton armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle stood next to Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer and gave the word that he can positively identify that it was both Bonnie & Clyde in the car before the law men open fired hundreds of rounds into car with Bonnie & Clyde. It makes one wonder how much life would have been different for Bonnie Parker had she took an interest in Ted Hinton years earlier in the café.

There is also an interesting story about the author’s visit in Joplin, MO, during his research for the book in the Acknowledgement section. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is rather fun story.

Overall, I am glad that I bought this book and read it. I really was interesting to read more about their lives and found that this book delivered that.

The Bad

Two things annoyed me with this book. The first thing, which was the least annoying of the two, was the lack of footnotes in the text. There is a great section of notes in the back of the book, but the author did not note the quotes with numbers so I could easily look back in the notes section and see where the quotes originate from my own interest. Instead, the author gives in the notes section the page the quote is found in the text, the first few words of the quote, then the names the source of that quote. I found this confusing when there were many quotes on the same page.

But the thing that bothered me the most was whenever he writes of Clyde Barrow’s actions, he uses “you” so to have the reader try to image what it was like to be Clyde Barrow and what he may have been thinking or spurred him to do the things that he did. I am not Clyde Barrow, nor had I lived a life like him, so it was annoying to read something like “you hate Eastham Prison” or “you and your brother Buck”, etc. I really wish that he kept everything in third person. 

While it did not annoy me, I know that it probably will annoy other people is that the author also added in sound effects into the text (i.e. Bang!, POW!, Rat-a-ta-ta!) It seems childish, but since the author is going for a non-fiction novel verse a normal biographical book, it made sense.

Fun Facts For Gamers

While I knew that Clyde broke into National Guard armories to obtain weapons, this book explains how well several of those break-ins went. In all cases, the armories where not guarded in the evening. So Clyde and one other member of his gang would break-in, cut the locks off of weapons, and take everything that they could carry. For example, in the break-in of the National Guard armory in Enid, Oklahoma, Clyde was able to steal according to W.D. Jones: 46 (!) government .45 automatic pistols, several rifles, some bayonets, and two or three cases of ammunition. Other armories that they broke into gathered several Browning Automatic Rifles (B.A.R.s) and at least one time, as a joke, Clyde Barrow, “Buck” Barrow, and W.D. Jones stole some National Guard uniforms and wore them when they came back to their hideout scare Bonnie and her sister, Billie Jean, as well as Blanche Barrow into thinking that they were the law and had them trying to get out the windows.

Just as a side note, a couple of years ago I went on a Civil War historical road trip through the Mid-West. While visiting a local historical society’s museum in Baxter Springs, Kansas, I stumble across a reference that there was a store, Eden's Grocery Store (now abandoned), that was robbed twice by Bonnie & Clyde in the same week! Sadly, this store was not mentioned in the book. While I was there, I went over to the abandoned store and took couple of pictures of the building. Below is one of the pictures that I took of the old store.

Wargaming Bonnie & Clyde

To be added later as blog entry: War on Crime Scenario: Platte City, MO, shootout; July 19, 1933 

Next Book Review

For the next book review, I really wanted to start reading “On the Trail of Bonnie and Clyde, Then and Now”, by Winston G. Ramsey or “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent, to stay in the US gangster 1920’s-30’s mood, but I left both of those back at home and I am working on the road for a while. So the next book is has me leaving the Great Dust Bowl of North America to the jungle hells of South America in, “Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z” by Col. Percy Fawcett. I am looking forward to reading this book as I have already read and enjoyed, “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” by David Grann. Sadly, yes, I am also fascinated with exploration histories to go along with my love of military history and criminal history.

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