According to the author's note, the corruption in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s was second only to Chicago. At the height of the Depression, it was a town that meant "land of opportunity" for so many unemployed people. Four of those people ended up in Los Angeles in Tommy Gun Tango by Brant Randall and Bruce Cook.
The story focuses on four losers, all heading west to start over. Marshal Lawe was the County Marshall in a small town in Massachusetts, Peony Springs, but as the town collapsed during the Depression, even the police were affected. After losing his job, he started for California, knowing of a cook that went to LA. He was the other side of a coin, totally different from the man he picked up on the road, Al Haine. While Marshal was honest and hard-working, Al fled Ireland in the 1920s, after killing a man. After arriving in the U.S., he ran liquor, worked collections for the mob, killed a couple more people, always moving west, looking for the next easy score.
Gloria Alwyn had owned her own little diner in Peony Springs, but lost it. When Marshal served the papers on her, she headed for her aunt's, where she found a job at a jazz club and restaurant. Unfortunately, Gloria ran afoul of two groups, a runner for Uncle Anton who ran the Negro criminal element, and a cop who picked her out in a raid as a "pinky", a Negro woman light enough to pass. This hard-working woman, again, stands as a contrast to Gayle Barton-Poole, known in Peony Springs as Jackie Sue, a young runaway and aspiring starlet who hooks up with Al.
Tommy Gun Tango sucks the characters into Los Angeles. It's a town where Marshal observes the bootleggers upstairs and the cops downstairs. While LA's mayor was a Prohibitionist, he had also been the head of the KKK in southern California. And, the movie studios, with all of their money and clout, bought and sold police, and paid for their own justice to hide the crimes of the stars. While tabloid newspapers tried to tell the criminal stories involving Fatty Arbuckle, William Desmond Taylor and Mabel Normand, it only took money for the studios to shut down justice.
Marshal, working for MGM, learns how the studios pay off cops, reporters and photographers to cover up the crimes and misdeeds of their stars. While he's upset with his observations, Al and Gayle know they can find a way to take advantage of the studios.
Los Angeles is brought vividly to life in this story of a sinful city in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a town, and a time, that could drag down even the most honest people, as they struggled to survive. And, it's the movie business, and the death of Jean Harlow's husband, that reveals the truth about all of the characters. In some ways, all of the main characters were victims of their times. There was prejudice against women, Negroes, the Irish, even lawmen, and each character relates some of their suffering because of their lot in life. The author excelled in the creation of the four people in this book, four people whose lives are forever changed by their time and place. Tommy Gun Tango is a masterful story of contrast, a perfect story for the economic times we're living through.
(Note - Bruce Cook writes as Brant Randall, and an author's note explains the reason for the pseudonym.)
Tommy Gun Tango by Brant Randall and Bruce Cook. Capital Crime Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780979996030 (paperback), 280p.