A book by American journalist Walter William Liggett sits in Mark Munger’s office. Liggett was the inspiration for this book "The Pen and the Sword". Liggett was an investigative journalist who worked to expose organized crime and corrupt politicians, and was gunned down with a Thompson submachine gun in Minneapolis on Dec. 9, 1935. Despite testimony from four eyewitnesses, the man they identified as the gunman was acquitted.
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Mark Munger, a retired District Court Judge, is a lifelong resident of Northeastern Minnesota. Mark's primary focus in his writing is fiction, though he has also authored a massive biography of Minnesota's most beloved legislator and premier environmentalist, Rep. Willard Munger ("Mr. Environment: The Willard Munger Story") and a collection of outdoor stories ("Black Water"). In all, Mark has written and published 8 novels, 1 short story collection, the biography, and the outdoor story collection. Mark is a life-long reader and writer and his novels are examples of fine regional fiction, praised for their use of local color, geography and history intermixed with compelling characters and plots.
Mark is an avid outdoors enthusiast and the father of four sons. He and his wife, Rene' (an artist and Guardian ad Litem) live on the banks of the wild and scenic Cloquet River north of Duluth and are the owners of Cloquet River Press.
Though there was nothing extraordinary about the trolley's journey, its departure revealed an elegant Cadillac Fleetwood – the Caddie's ebony hood polished to luminescence and reflecting light from adjacent streetlamps – across the snow-dusted thoroughfare. Though the big motorcar crept along Bloomington Avenue with its headlights off, the reporter recognized it and felt his chest tighten. He was about to scuttle up the stairs and into the duplex when the Cadillac's rear passenger-side window opened to expose the muzzle of a Thompson submachine gun.
This is a book that reels you in from the start and never lets go, a first-rate 1920s crime noir novel where three young men's lives converge beneath the pulsating drama of prohibition, political corruption entwining Irish and Italian mobs, seedy speakeasies and brothels, with ambition stretching from Tammany Hall to the White House, and a need for newspapers to find the truth to make money during an era plunging into the Great Depression.
Abram was meeting James “Slim” Harris, the Irishman he was partnered with to smuggle whiskey and gin into Minnesota from Canada, the bootleggers working under the protection and scrutiny of Irish mobster and kingpin, Ian “Stuffy” McNulty. Details concerning the next shipment should have preoccupied Abram's thoughts, but he couldn't shake what he'd read in the newspaper. My old friend the war hero is running for office as a Farmer Laborite, the Kid thought as he walked through the rain, referencing the fact Sigurd Larson had cast his lot with Minnesota's third party. That's not a bad equation, one filled with opportunity. I know things about Siggy; things his handlers, his wife, and his supporters would not want splashed across the front page of the paper. Our history is something I can use to my advantage.
Don Swanson, a young reporter whose dream is to write a Great American novel one day, in the style of Upton Sinclair, takes a job with a failing newspaper, the Truthsayer, and vows to bring to justice a rising politician by the name of Sigurd Larson, a man with his finger on the pulse of the State and irons in every fire... even as Larson finds himself in the grip of his childhood friend, Abram Rosenstein, a notorious criminal known as Kid Rose. Rose thinks to use their past friendship and Larson's rising star to his advantage, holding some of Larson's secrets over his head so the politician will bend to his favors. Swanson noses around every corner and follows up on every lead to find out the secrets between these two men... which ultimately leads to tragedy... and Swanson's five-year-old daughter on the witness stand in a perfect Perry Mason-styled scenario.
It was at that moment Don Swanson had a choice to make. Follow the thugs – who from the look of things, had built steely muscle by unloading freight on the waterfront, and likely have an unpleasant session with their boss – or turn tail and run. A smart man, a man valuing his wife and daughter, would do just that. But his job was on the line. Don's editor, Stanley Prescott, had made it clear the reporter was on a short leash given his failure to place the article about President Foley's unscrupulous behavior in the hands of the copy editor as promised. I fail here and Stanley will likely show me the door. Swanson nodded and followed the men.
Mr. Munger's writing style is tight and entertaining... clipping along with enough action to propel the reader through the tangled web of politics and crime... a perfect storm that brings to mind more modern-day examples of political corruption and the underpinnings of vice. Along with the spanning arc of the storyline, the reader is given an unexpected twist towards the end which bring a satisfying (albeit morose) ending to the narrative. While the narrative is entirely fiction, the characters are fleshed out in a splendid way and are based on some very well-known real-life individuals and events of that time period (as pointed out in the author's noted) such as The Prohibition Repeal Act, and Isadore Blumenfeld (known as Kid Cann), the most notorious mobster in Minnesotan history.
The author's historical research is evident in the writing and is crafted in a way to bring knowledge and entertainment to the reader... and is worthy of five stars.
I never knew him, she lamented as she held the hardcover up in the saltwater-tinged air – the dust jacket's colorful imagery of Norwegian settlers struggling to survive a Minnesota winter still crisp and pristine – and opened it. Her copy of This Troubled Land bore an inscription to someone, a stranger – perhaps a young woman – who'd once stood in line, wide-eyed and nervous, with other admirers at a book signing: To Madeline Campbell: Remember what Norman Rockwell said: “The story is the first thing and the only thing.” Keep writing!
“The Pen and the Sword” by Mark Munger receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company