Its easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing historys great criminals weve been doing it since Robin Hood burglarized Nottingham in the name of the people. Cortez author Chuck Greaves knows better.
Few eras created as many anti-heroes as Americas Great Depression, when gangsters such as Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde lived and died by the Tommy Gun. But they were just the headliners, and if theres anything worse than a celebrity murdering thief, its an anonymous, two-bit, lowlife, statutory rapist of a murdering thief. Thats Clint Palmer, and the fictionalized story of him and his 13-year-old traveling companion, Lottie Garrett, is the subject of Greaves great new novel, Hard Twisted.
Ill leave the facts of Palmers story and the 1935 Skeleton Murder trial to Greaves, who will fill in the historical facts tonight when hell be the guest speaker at Marias Bookshop. But about 20 years ago, Greaves found two human skulls in the Utah desert and it is his research into those victims that led him to write Hard Twisted. Few authors of historical fiction have such firsthand insight into their subjects.
The novel has been called gritty by every reviewer Ive read, and I cant improve on the adjective. Homeless Lottie and her father meet Palmer shortly after his release from Leavenworth, which, sadly, is the best thing that happens to the abbreviated family. Shortly thereafter, Dad vanishes, and Palmer drags Lottie around the country in search of him, though we realize almost immediately that its a futile search and Palmer knows it all too well.
In detailing the couples odyssey, Greaves debunks any of the romantic myth associated with the 30s gangster. Like his infamous counterparts, Palmer always had a few extra dollars after every town theyd stop at in the Southwest. One of those towns was Durango, which Greaves accurately described as a near ghost town in 1934 in between the silver rush and the tourist boom.
Lottie never seemed to notice that Palmers pockets were a deeper each time, but she probably overlooked his larceny because she had her own problems. Palmer, whom history has revealed to be a sexual predator of underage girls, treated the adolescent Lottie as his wife during their year together on the road across four states. And it wasnt like she was living the gangster high life, either; Palmer also treated her to a never-ending string of roadside campsites and seedy boarding houses.
The research and historical accuracy of Hard Twisted, combined with Greaves commitment to pulling no punches in telling the story, explain why the novel was named Best Historical Novel in the SouthWest Writers International Writing Contest. It should be the first of many such honors.