Book Review: ‘Gangster in our Midst’ by Betty Brandt Passick

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Gangster in our Midst

Betty Brandt Passick — Independently published

Betty Brandt Passick, Gangster in our Midst Lecture and Book Signing

Johnson County Historical Society Museum — Sunday, June 23 at 1 p.m.

Gangster in our Midst is a multiple-perspective historical fiction by Betty Brandt Passick, about Louie Da Cava, a man with alleged ties to Al Capone, who married a woman from Oxbow, Iowa. The first chapter introduces us to Louie in his brother-in-law’s home in Oxbow as he hesitantly welcomes the paperboy: Louie “Three Fingers” is fearful of opening doors ever since a car exploded outside his Chicago duplex in ’28. The story follows Louie’s and the town’s progress over the next few decades.

Walter, father of two young sons and husband to Emma (who suffers from consumption), walks the straight and narrow and is none too fond of the idea of having a suspected gangster in his quiet town. Emma spends a period of time recuperating in Coralville’s Oakdale Sanitorium, leaving him to raise his sons with some help from the Catholic church and farm friends.

The third main voice (there is a noticeable lack of women’s POV) is Marshal Sweeney Delaney, the town’s police officer and meter reader. Though he’s a man of the law, he has a certain fondness for Louie “Three Fingers,” even inviting him on hunting trips and accompanying him on a visit to Chicago.

Passick has clearly done a lot of historical research for this book; she quotes newspaper reports and obituaries to add detail. The story at times suffers from an unfortunate excess of detail, which can detract from the main story — a sermon that segues into a lecture on the perils of not rotating crops feels out of place, for instance.

Gangster in our Midst recalls an Iowa of a bygone time: when families went to the Bon Ton candy shop for a treat; when everyone had a church home (but the Protestants and Catholics agreed to walk on opposite sides of the street); and when you had to warm up your Model T by leaving a roasting pan of corn cobs on fire under the transmission before you could get it to start.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 266.

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