Andrew Hilleman’s debut novel is the story of Pat Crowe – kidnapper, outlaw, charmer, and adventurer. Part God’s honest truth, part pack of lies, all wild fun. I read this grinning from ear to ear.
The true story of Pat Crowe starts at the turn of the last century, when he kidnaps the son of a meat-packing tycoon for $25,000 In ransom and goes on the lam for 5 years. It’s the crime of the decade, maybe the century, and the entire nation is enthralled. How did Crowe get into this mess, and how will he get himself out of it?
It’s a riot of fun. Hilleman’s version Pat Crowe is as charismatic as it gets, a man made entirely of guts and thunder, who learns early that “being miserable ain’t the same as being good” . Crowe takes this advice to heart, and tears a hole through the wild west until his stories become the stuff of legend.
The supporting cast help throw our man into sharper relief: the drunk side kick, Billy Cavanaugh, who Crowe takes under his wing; the criminal boss Tom Denison, quick to cross his friends for a buck or two; meatpacking tycoon Ed Cudahy Sr, single minded in his attempts to keep a vice like grip on his industry; and scheming lawyers A.S. Ritchie and Louis Black, men who will compromise almost every value they hold to make their names. Through each we learn more about the man, and how he was shaped by the times he lived in.
Hilleman doesnt just rely on these fascinating characters to carry the novel though. He has a beautiful turn of phrase that will leave you grinning, whether it’s the words of 70 year old cowboy looking back on his life tinged with nostalgia (“isn’t it gorgeous to be sad”), or a young lawyer trying to trying to get his client off with the crime of the century (“there is only one thing that is colder and chillier and more heartless than a million dollars, and that is two million”). It’s a style that feels both nuanced and simple, both complicated and plain and so infectious that you’ll find yourself speaking like Crowe if you’re not careful.
Hilleman is no slouch either. He wastes hardly a word in the entire book. World Chase Me Down gallops along from the off, barely pausing for breath – settings and times shift around from chapter to chapter, but the breakneck speed never lets up.
I enjoyed this book. Granted, westerns aren’t for every one, but this might just be the exception for some. I have a rule about books I read – if I start slowing down so I don’t finish it too quickly, then it’s a good book. World Chase Me Down easily passes that test.
P.S. There’s a weird link between this book and the Great Gatsby. The boy that Pat Crowe kidnaps is called Ed Cudahy Jr, who eventually married Peg Carry.
Peg was one if a group of débutantes from Chicago in 1914. Others in the group included Ginevra King, (Fitzgerald’s muse and inspiration behind Daisy Buchanan from the Great Gatsby) and Edith Cummings (premier golfer and inspiration behind Jordan Baker in the Great Gatsby too).