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Archive for December, 2022

Non-Fiction Review – Mob Cop

Wednesday, December 7th, 2022

Mob Cop: My Life of Crime in the Chicago Police Department

by Fred Pascente with Sam Reaves

Review by jjares


Fred Pascente grew up in the Italian section of Chicago (called the Near West Side) with a wide range of men who emerged as heavy hitters in the Mafia. One of Fred’s closest friends was Tony Spilotro, the youngest made man in the Chicago Outfit History.

A word of explanation: The Chicago Outfit was an Italian-American organized crime family based in Chicago. It originated on the city’s South Side in the early 1910s. The Chicago group was part of the larger Italian-American Mafia. Big Jim Colosimo (aka Diamond Jim or Big Jim) created his Chicago criminal empire through gambling, prostitution, and racketeering. Their rivals were other Chicago gangs, notably the North Side Gang (Al Capone) and the Irish Mob (famously led by Charles Dean O’Banion).

Many of the youngsters Fred grew up with settled into careers in organized crime. However, Fred took a different route. He was drafted into the army and later became a Chicago cop.

The description of the Chicago police on the take and how widespread it was, was sobering. At this time, the city police were poorly paid and took bribes to augment their salaries. Finally, during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mayor Daley gave the city police a $2000/year raise (because Vietnam protestors used the Convention to create violent riots and attack police). According to Fred (a new recruit at the time of the Convention and violence), Mayor Daley told the troops to go after the rioters. After three days of violence against the police (and not allowed to push back), the police were ready to retaliate, and they did. Fred says that history states that the police did the rioting; he disagrees.

During the week, Fred was a policeman; on the weekends, he traveled to Las Vegas with friends. He learned how to rob the casinos while playing cards. Before it was all over, Fred was one of thirty men banned from Las Vegas for life (via Nevada’s casino Black Book). Entering the city again would be a felony for any of the thirty involved.

Fred was soon chosen by William Hanhardt, the chief of detectives in the Chicago Police Dept., because of his connections. Hanhardt turned Fred into his bagman and fixer for several years.

Fred was a policeman for 26 years. He retired just before the FBI indicted him. The FBI wanted William Hanhardt and leaned on Fred. He refused to tell on his friend. Therefore, the police indicted and convicted Fred of insurance fraud (which he’d done with a Gypsy friend). The end of the case resulted in Fred losing his pension. When Fred emerged from prison, he had to start over again. He was still working at 72 when he died.
At first, I was stunned by the blase way Fred talked about crime; before long, the reading was addictive. Fred comes across as an easy-come-easy-go person with a relaxed moral compass. Amazingly, I was disappointed when the book ended.




SciFi Review – Providence

Friday, December 2nd, 2022

Providence by Max Barry

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


The first encounter with aliens did not go well for humans. Without any attempt at communication, the aliens killed the crew of a spaceship. Subsequent encounters were much the same, and now humans are doing their best to wipe out the entire species of the aliens they call “salamanders”.   There are losses of course, and after a particularly awful loss the Earth’s population is getting weary of the expense and questioning the war.

A new class of spaceship has been developed called Providence. Controlled completely by AI, it’s a weapon of war designed for zero human casualties. it still has a small human crew for… well, for what? Apparently it’s to watch the ship in action and to send social media clips back to Earth.  Not all the crew – Captain Jackson, Life officer Beanfield, Weapons officer Anders, and Intel officer Gilly – realize they have no role in the conflict.  Beanfield knows it, but her job is to keep everyone on an even mental keel and she’s not telling.  But Anders, who has managed to qualify for the operation while having severe mental issues, is going to throw a wrench into the mission.

It all starts to come apart in a big way when the ship goes out of communication range with Earth. Gilly notices a problem with the ship’s computer core that the AI doesn’t recognize. But fixing it causes the ship to decide the humans are interfering with its mission. In the meantime, Gilly is also seeing that the salamanders are learning from each encounter, and each time getting a little better at tactics. When Anders goes completely off the rails, they are in desperate straits indeed.  I couldn’t believe that Barry was going to be able to write them out of the predicament he put them in, but it was an exciting ending. Except maybe for what Gilly found about the salamanders, I’m still not sure what difference that made.

PROVIDENCE is not just an SF action novel. There’s a lot of character development for the crew, all of whom have flaws. Even Anders becomes sympathetic towards the end. There’s definitely jabs at the military-industrial complex and the whole social media universe.  There are some thought-provoking questions here. Is Barry trying to tell us that nothing we do really matters in the long run? Or maybe it’s just a book…

You can read this as a pretty cool space opera, or you can read it carefully looking for themes and ideas. It likely isn’t a book for everyone, but it was definitely interesting.




Non-Fiction Review – Orphan Trains

Thursday, December 1st, 2022

Orphan Trains: Taking the Rails to a New Life by Rebecca Langston-George

Review by jjares

Because I read a lot of historical fiction, I’m familiar with the ‘orphan trains’ of the 1800s to the early 1900s. I’m used to reading about them taking homes in the West. However, I wanted to learn about them from the beginning point, usually New York City. Why were there so many available to go on the trains to the West? What were their stories? Although this book is written for children, it answered my questions well.

In 1853, Charles Loring Brace, a young minister, was dismayed by the 30,000 orphaned children wandering about in New York City alone. Partly, this was caused by the significant influx of immigrants to America and the lack of vaccines to protect people from illnesses. In addition, with poor sanitation and hygiene, there was a high death rate among adults, leaving abandoned children.

Brace and other ministers allied to address the problem. The orphanages were overwhelmed, and many more children lived in the streets however they could manage. So Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society. After gathering donations, the group opened schools and lodgings. The group started with the newsboy, giving them accommodation and a way to save their pennies (earned selling newspapers), so they could continue their independence. Still, there were so many children.

Brace realized the children would be better served by letting them live on farms with families. Twenty-eight of the thirty-seven children were adopted on the first orphan train in 1854. Each child was bathed, groomed, given new clothes and shoes, and placed on the train. This book tells the individual stories of children looking for a home.

Along the train line, flyers were posted to let people know when the orphans would arrive. Prospective adults were screened and told that the children were not indentured servants but were free to leave if ill-treated or dissatisfied. Likewise, the farmers could dismiss the children if they were lazy or unsuitable.

After telling several individual stories, this book gives closing remarks on those personal lives — and they are fascinating. About 250,000 children moved westward in the largest migration of children in history. Amongst those survivors, there were two governors, a congressman, a sheriff, at least one mayor, some district attorneys, doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, business owners, and one nun.

This book tells stories of a little-known segment of our history. With the photos and individual narratives, this book will affect the reader. This author indicates that PBS did a documentary about orphan trains. There are also orphan train museums, reunions, and websites.