cover image Saint Mudd: 2a Novel of Gangsters and Saints

Saint Mudd: 2a Novel of Gangsters and Saints

Steve Thayer. Viking Books, $21 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84501-9

Enriched since `wealth' follows by a wealth of historic detail and some evocative writing, this first novel (Thayer self-published an earlier version in 1986) brings to life the uncommon setting of '30s St. Paul, Minn., a safe haven for pimps, gamblers, bootleggers, dope smugglers and bloodthirsty gangsters of every stripe. In his popular column in the financially crumbling St. Paul Frontier News , protagonist Grover Mudd assails his city's cops, politicians and criminals--all of the forces that have brought on its moral decay. Characterized by cynical honesty and truculent wit, ``Grover's Corner'' alternately elicits anger, respect and amusement from the local citizenry. With the paper on its last legs, Grover and his editor, Walt Howard, mount a front-page campaign against the city's hospitality to criminals and the bloodshed in its streets. Meanwhile, the Feds come to town on the trail of some infamous crooks, among them Baby Face Nelson, Alvin Karpis, John Dillinger, Ma Barker's boys and the principal local villain, Dag Rankin. Lacking the distinctive narrative voice of the best crime fiction and with sex scenes seemingly grafted onto the story, Thayer's novel succeeds best as the story of St. Paul and of Grover Mudd. A contemporary of F. Scott Fitzgerald, in failing health as the result of wartime mustard gas, divorced and in love with a black hotel maid, an occasional opium user working for a dying paper in a decadent town, Mudd holds the reader's interest from start to finish. (June)