|Robinson, Burnett, LeRoy|
More than 20 years ago, I read Burnett's 1949 heist novel, The Asphalt Jungle, but never returned to his work until now.
“Round Trip” is the story of George Barber, a Chicago gangster in the 1920s. He is the muscle the owner of a gambling joint uses to collect unpaid debts. George is good at his job, but tired of the grind and tells his boss he is taking off on a little vacation. He takes the train to Toledo, a small city in north-western Ohio and not exactly a vacation getaway from windy Chicago. Cabbies, bellboys and hotel clerks treat him with disdain, which annoys George who is used to being treated with respect in his home town where people know and fear him. On top of that, he comes down with a bad cold. In Toledo less than a day, he gets a visit from some hard-bitten cops who send him packing right back to Chicago.
This 1929 story is told almost entirely through dialogue, and that dialogue, along with the attitudes of George and the other tough guys, is about as hard-boiled as it gets. Burnett’s writing style is straight forward and matter of fact, but it seemed he had a great ear for the slang and speech patterns of the underworld characters of his time. It is no wonder Hollywood grabbed him after his first novel, 1929's Little Caesar, came out. “Round Trip” was written shortly after Little Caesar and the death of Rico, the main character in that book, is mentioned in this story.
William Riley Burnett was born in 1899 in Springfield, Ohio, and died in 1982 in Santa Monica, California. After working in an Ohio state government job, and writing stories on his own time, he moved to Chicago in the late 1920s. There he met many of the real-life characters he later depicted in print and on screen. Warner Bros. bought Little Caesar, and produced it as a movie in 1931 starring Edward G. Robinson and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Around the same time, Burnett moved to Hollywood. Over the next 52 years he turned out 38 more novels and wrote, co-wrote or contributed to more than 50 film and television scripts.
Now that I am reacquainted with Burnett, I want to read more and there are a several of his novels, including Nobody Lives Forever from 1943, now on my list.
“Round Trip” can be found in a 1995 collection called, Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian.
(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog.)
I wonder if gang figures in those days picked up some of their slang and mannerisms from the movies, as we're told the modern Italian brand started aping The Godfather. I was unfamiliar with Burnett--until now. Thanks for the introduction!ReplyDelete
Mathew – Good question. I think Burnett and Ben Hecht, a former Chicago newspaper reporter, got there first. Later, after LITTLE CAESAR, PUBLIC ENEMY and the original SCARFACE, the gangsters might have copied the movies.ReplyDelete
Elgin, I've heard of Burnett but haven't tried him. His work sounds interesting, but I've more than enough to read already.ReplyDelete
You certainly do keep busy, Col. But, if you do get the chance, try Burnett’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.Delete
I wish I liked these sorts of stories and the hard-boiled lingo that goes with them. But my idea of hard-boiled jargon is the kind heard in Damon Runyon's GUYS AND DOLLS or the movie version of THE THIN MAN. I'm a whimp. I hadn't realized Burnett wrote THE ASPHALT JUNGLE - wow.ReplyDelete
Love Runyon, clever and totally original. Really love Hammett, the coolest.Delete
Always looking for another train movie, Elgin. I don't think I've ever seen this one. I'm not super smitten with hard-boiled, but occasionally I enjoy it.ReplyDelete
Yvette – THE NARROW MARGIN is one of the best. It shows occasionally on TCM.Delete