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Arts & Culture

Top Philly-focused Books For The Snowbound

February 13, 2014 12:02 PM

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(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Reporting Jay Lloyd

We really do love being told by that soothing voice on the radio, “Stay off the roads. Don’t go out.” Because right now, “out” is covered with snow and ice. Why would we want to go anywhere? This is the perfect excuse to ease back in the recliner, uncork a bottle of wine and spend the day lost in a book that will transport you to the ends of the earth…or just outside your door, without actually having to go out there. Here are some of the more interesting Philadelphia-based reads on my shelf and kindle. – Jay Lloyd

MIRACLE AT PHILADELPHIA

Catherine Drinker Bowen

At the top of my Philly-focused list is a tome that takes us back to the document that bound the states into a single union. And it was forged in what we now call “Old City.”

Catherine Bowen’s narrative takes us to the steaming summer streets of Philly in 1787 and explores the contentious personalities and divergent interests of the men from both north and south that cobbled together the United States Constitution. While exploring both controversy and compromise, Miracle at Philadelphia provides a colorful portrait of life in 18th-century Philadelphia, which was lived largely around that familiar patch of geography surrounding Independence Hall. The book is available both for tablets and in paperback. Hardback copies can be purchased from sellers on Amazon and e-Bay.

THE MURDERERS

W.E.B. Griffin

A fast-paced police thriller, The Murderers focuses on a well-heeled Philadelphia police detective who chose the roundhouse over his Main Line parents’ ambitions. The bad guys he runs down are right out real-life Philly police logs.

The most fascinating anecdote here is the fictionalized version of a double murder in the basement office of Dante’s Inferno, a popular 1960’s Center City bar and restaurant. The victims were the owner’s wife and business partner. Jack Lopinson, the owner and a bit of a playboy, had hired a pug boxer as the hit man to get rid of his wife and make the whole thing look like a robbery gone bad. What the Griffin yarn doesn’t detail is that the case was solved by accident in an unrelated incident when the pug, “Birdman” Phelan, decided to go fist-to-fist with a young police lieutenant, Frank Rizzo. The boxer was no match for the cop. This read is available for tablets and in paperback.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Nelson Johnson

In real life, he was Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. On the popular TV series, he’s Nucky Thompson. While his reign as Atlantic City Treasurer and corrupt politico brought rum runners, the mob and hordes of pleasure seekers to the Jersey shore during Prohibition, it forms only a portion of the book on which the series is based. Boardwalk Empire takes us back to the 18th century beginnings of Absecon Village and travels to the intrigue-fueled development of the present day modern casinos. But it was the Nucky Johnson years that set the stage for Atlantic City’s boom and bust with the creation of rail lines that linked Philadelphia to the working man’s resort-by-the-sea. The rails and mass flow of shore-goers were followed by the growth of boarding houses and bawdy hotels and the migration of southern African-Americans to staff them. They are well covered in the Nelson book. You’ll find an Atlantic City that reads like a well-paced work of fiction, except it’s for real. Find the book for tablet and in paperback.

SLOT ATTENDANT

Jack Englehard

Jack Englehard, a former Inquirer columnist and KYW-Newsradio editor, knows his way around the tracks and casinos. Jack has played the ponies and explored every nook of the back stretch and back rooms of casinos that players never see.

Slot Attendant is the tale of a writer who has fallen on hard times after enjoying box office success with a major screenplay. Jack himself is the author of “Indecent Proposal,” which once topped movie charts. The writer in Slot Attendant takes the only job that makes sense to keep his family fed and will allow him to continue his pursuit of another movie blockbuster, as a slot attendant for an Atlantic City casino. The book takes us to the Philly suburbs, New York and Hollywood as the writer navigates his way through a pair of very fickle industries, media and gaming. It offers a rare glimpse into life behind the scenes as money is plucked from the eager hands of high rollers and hopeful grannies. It also offers rare insight into the personalities of the players. Slot Attendant is available in paperback and for tablets.

DEATH BY DEADLINE

Larry Kane

There aren’t many people that know their way around Philadelphia TV news rooms like Larry Kane. He’s anchored at 3, 6 and 10 and had a stint in New York.

In Death by Deadline, his first novel, you’ll walk familiar Philadelphia streets and get an inside look at newsroom intrigue and romance. The real-life drama at crime scenes pales in comparison to the drama of getting a leg up in the highly competitive ratings wars!

[Note: Kane’s fictional TV station mirrors the staff and former location of CBS3. It isn’t hard to pinpoint the fictional and hyper-productive reporter Wally Tracker -- look no farther than your nightly TV screen and watch CBS3’s Walt Hunter!]

Tracker/Hunter? You get the idea. Deadline is a fast-paced thriller that encompasses murder and mayhem, newsroom dalliances and ratings rivalries. You could finish the book in the time that it takes me to tell you about it. Death by Deadline is available for tablet and in paperback.

ECHOES IN THE DARKNESS

Joseph Wambaugh

Echoes is best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh’s faithfully constructed narrative of a shocking murder case that played out in our region for years. In fact, key elements remain unresolved to this day. The story covers the murder of Upper Merion school teacher, Susan Reinhart, and the disappearance of her two young children, whose bodies have never been found. The principal of Upper Merion High, Jay Smith, and the head of the English Department, William Bradfield, were both tried and convicted. Bradfield died in Graterford Prison; Smith was sentenced to death but released because of outrageous conduct on the part of the prosecutor.

With Smith’s recent death, any hope of finding the children went into the grave. The Wambaugh book captures it all, but the author became part of the story himself when it was learned that he offered the lead State Police investigators a substantial payment in exchange for “a good outcome.” That was taken to mean a conviction. Echoes is a fascinating tale available in paperback and for tablet.

Snow isn’t so bad after all. Just pour that wine, lean back and travel into the world of a Philly-focused yarn. Happy reading!

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