Starring… John Dillinger
by Bill Walker and Brian Anthony
A review by Abby Lane
A reformed American gangster exchanges gun fire for a movie script, in this Hollywood blockbuster novel.
The book opens with Robert Butler and his daughter Lizzie meeting the notorious gangster, John Herbert Dillinger. On the run from the law, Dillinger intends to turn himself in to the authorities, but the plan goes amiss when two police officers unknowingly enter the scene.
When two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents capture rather than kill John Dillinger as he leaves the Biograph Theatre, an alternate history unfolds. After four weeks at trial, Dillinger is sentenced for his crimes. When he’s handed ten years in solitary confinement, his fate seems certain, but the judge’s ruling can’t pin him down and Dillinger plots the greatest escape of all through a public service film.
And I quote: “John Dillinger in front of a camera was as deadly as a Thompson submachine gun, and J. Edgar Hoover had just made the biggest mistake of his life.” After seeing Dillinger’s directorial debut, Jack Warner, a film exec, believes Dillinger has something in him that will attract the masses. He wants to put this outlaw in the movies and to achieve this end, Warner intimidates the likes of J. Edgar Hoover.
The novel Starring…John Dillinger is a captivating portrayal of an American gangster reimagined into a movie star. It was obvious from the beginning of the story that the book has a boatload of talent, but the movie pros were portrayed more thoroughly than the criminal’s mind. I enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it, but as this book is based on a true to life character, I would have valued more insight into Dillinger’s psyche.
The showtime appeal is evident. The novel is beautifully written; the prose certainly does an outstanding job of conveying and picturing a classic time period of Hollywood cinema. The 1930s language contributes to the silver screen appeal, which carries the action forward. Still, I found myself asking questions about Dillinger that the novel didn’t or couldn’t answer. Maybe this author wanted to experience John Dillinger’s exploits, even the outlaw holding a gun, or what he might have felt while fingering the trigger. These curiosities shouldn’t concern readers as you will certainly fall for the outlaw, but a glimpse of Dillinger’s ‘killer instinct’ may have made for a stronger ending.Readers who love alternate histories will find value in Bill Walker and Brian Anthony giving John Dillinger a second chance at life. I encourage readers to dive into this page-turner, and after reading this novel, I recommend watching Leonardo DiCaprio in his role as J. Edgar Hoover.
Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She received this novel in exchange for an honest review. The original review will be published on November 11, 2021 and can be viewed here.