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A Brilliant Criminal Becomes a Writer - an Editorial Review of "Rook"

Author Bio:

Stephen G. Eoannou is the author of the novels Yesteryear (SFWP 2023), Rook (Unsolicited Press 2022), and the short story collection Muscle Cars (SFWP 2015). He has been awarded an Honor Certificate from The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and won the Best Short Screenplay Award at the 36th Starz Denver Film Festival. Eoannou holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and an MA from Miami University. He lives and writes in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, the setting and inspiration for much of his work.

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Editorial Review:

This,” he said, tapping a finger on the Reader's Digest, “changes everything. Al is a national story. Everyone knows him. Walter Cronkite ran a segment on the CBS News about him last night.”

Stephen Eoannou does it again with this cleverly crafted, gritty historical crime novel full of the witty quips and intrigue following in the footsteps of other great crime novelists, such as Mickey Spillane. In true “Catch Me If You Can” fashion, Al Nussbaum spends his days living a double life – robbing banks on his 'supposed business trips' while playing the dutiful husband and father to his wife and daughter when at home. While Lolly, his wife, dreams of a three-story Victorian to live out her idyllic life as a mother and wife, her husband is stacking up case all over the place from various 'jobs' and managing his two accomplices – one who has a fake eye that gives him the creeps and who has just murdered during one of their robberies, an incident that never should have happened.

Now, Al must make the difficult decision to leave his family behind and go into hiding, but what he doesn't count on is a meddlesome mother-in-law just waiting to tell her daughter 'I told you so' about the good-for-nothing man she married.

What makes this especially intriguing is that this is not your run-of-the-mill fictional crime story – this is for real. Al Nussbaum was called 'the most cunning fugitive alive' by none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself.

Clever as most mastermind criminals are, Al Nussbaum excelled at not only robbing banks, but in crafting bombs, playing chess, and writing crime fiction, himself. After setting off two bombs in Washington D. C. in 1961, and putting the blame on white supremacists in protest for the civil rights movement, the ruse did exactly what he intended – to distract law enforcement so he could rob another bank.

Later, on another job, he joined his two accomplices where one of them killed guard Henry Kraus with a submachine gun. When one of the robbers was nabbed and squealed like a pig, Nussbaum confessed the whole business to his wife, told her to wait it out, and he'd be back for her with a plan. His plan? To go to Brazil where there was no extradition. The FBI was now on a manhunt, posting posters all over the country for the notorious bank robber – 600 agents looking for him, his one-eyed companion, Wilcoxson, and Wilcoxson's girlfriend, Jackie Rose.

The author takes the reader on the lam, showing the inner workings of this criminal, and his doubts about leaving his wife while planning this fantasy world in his head of life in Brazil. When things die down, or at least he thinks everything is safe, he returns to secretly visit Lolly and their daughter, but his mother-in-law is waiting for the chance. As history shows, his criminal days come to an end... but while in prison, his new career is just beginning.

Al Nussbaum becomes a writer, and this part of the story is as intriguing as learning that Frank Abagnale of forging fame shows up on 'To Tell the Truth' on television. Al Nussbaum, while on the run, starts writing stories after reading a popular pulp fiction novel. Using the name Carl Fischer (as a homage to his favorite chess player, Bobby Fischer), he starts corresponding to Dan Marlowe, the writer of the book he read, and soon, he has stories published after his parole in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. He also wrote a novel published by Scholastic Press.

Stephen Eoannou does a great job in developing this entire storyline, albeit with the crass language used by these criminal types (trigger warning), but the writing technique and flow of the narrative is first-rate. This next little excerpt shows you what I mean – showing the inner workings of the man's mind and how even cracks in a ceiling had his mind ticking about his next possible move. A strategist to the end, playing the chess pieces like he would never lose.

A ceiling crack, one he'd been meaning to plaster for months, stretched above their bed. It was shaped like New York State's western boundary, sloping down from its most northern point, then beaking out at Lake Ontario before snaking west, then south, indenting where Buffalo hugged the shore. He had been staring at the crack for hours, unable to sleep, placing imaginary circles to mark border towns – Ogdensburg, Oswego, Niagara Falls.

And then he became a writer. Who better to write crime fiction than a brilliant criminal.

Christmas in Brazil. Christmas in Brazil. Christmas in Brazil. Putting it all on paper should be as easy as robbing the Western Pennsylvania National Bank, he thought, typing faster. As the carriage approached the right margin, the warning bell sounded.


Rook” by Stephen G. Eaonnou receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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