Father Divine's Bikes by Steve Bassett

A gangster war, three murders, a gun-toting paperboy, and the numbers racket punctuate the tragic story of two altar boys adrift in a world of crime with no hope of escape.

Father divine's bikes

My 35 years as a journalist came to an end when I was declared legally blind, I stepped into the world of literary fiction for the first time. Not knowing if I could handle this new genre, I was surprised and delighted when the reviews came in for FATHER DIVINE'S BIKES, the first book of my Passaic River Trilogy.

"Dialogue is the primary descriptive vehicle. Slang and regional accents enhance the novel's diverse and cosmopolitan flavor....The tone is biting and spare, reflective of life on the edge of desperation." Clarion Foreword Review Rating: 4 out of 5; Reviewed by Mari Carlson

"…fast-paced with interesting twists, suspenseful, and deeply satisfying. Father Divine's Bikes is a riveting story told by a master storyteller. Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite

"Steve Bassett puts his considerable storytelling skills to work in Father Divine's Bikes. He weaves a story of triumph, regret and tragedy….It's a book you won't want to put down.  Peabody Award-winning Pete Noyes, author of "The Real L.A. Confidential" and "Who Killed the Big News."

It's the story of two boys trapped in the front lines of a bloody gansgster war waged by Newark's Jewish and Italian mafias for control of the lucrative numbers racket. Joey Bancik and Richie Maxwell, two Catholic altar boys, are recruited by black bookies using their barbershop as a front. They quickly realize they are players in a dangerous game, but the easy money is too good to pass up.

Joey and Richie live in a shrinking white enclave where poverty-stricken families welcome the few bucks their numbers-running kids put on the table. Police-protected bookmakers and numbers banks share the ward with Jewish bathhouses, Voodoo shamans, prostitutes, Yiddish pushcart vendors and abandoned mansions. In the Third Ward, the numbers racket is considered little more than a parlor game -- citywide corruption is endemic.

It begins when Richie, with fifty cents in his pocket, shortcuts through the Negro section to get a haircut. He encounters a big black man standing in the doorway of a Father Divine Peace barbershop that offers haircuts to anyone, black or white, for only ten cents. Greed kicks in and Richie decides to take a chance. He walks out with forty cents in his pocket, the start of a twice-a-month habit and a growing friendship with the barbers who are really bookies working for mobster Richie “the Boot” Boiardo.

The numbers parlor fronted by a barbershop is Boiardo’s first move into territory controlled by rival Longy Zwillman. With the Boiardo mob pulling the strings, first Richie and then Joey secure Beacon paper routes, but only if they agree to run numbers. They are now petty criminals and being hauled into juvie court is a risk they’re willing to take. Father Terry Nolan, their parish priest, and two homicide detectives, Lt. Nick Cisco and Sgt. Kevin Mcclosky, know the consequences could be much greater.

Cisco and McClosky are aware that a mob turf battle is about to erupt and that three of the Third Ward murders they are investigating are somehow connected. Stoolies and beat cop Frank Gazzi pass along word from the street that the circulation war is only a cover. The black bookies’ first attempt to infiltrate Zwillman territory fails when their numbers runners are savagely beaten. So with mob approval, they tap Joey to be their sacrificial lamb, knowing that thugs in the battle zone will be waiting.

Cisco, as senior partner, rejects McClosky’s contention that the matter be left to the Vice squad. Cisco doesn’t want the kids hurt and fears if they are sucked into the numbers racket, they will never get out. They track Joey to a luxury apartment where they find Gazzi standing over two dead bodies.

Genre: FICTION / Crime

Secondary Genre: FICTION / Noir

Language: English

Keywords: numbers racket, tenement slums, east coast mafia, New Jersey mobsters, Jewish gangsters, teenage numbers runners, Jewish police, policy racket, religious charlatan, urban ghetto poverty, slumlord rent collectors, ice pick murder, inner city prostitution, pornography everywhere, poor family beatings

Word Count: 105,000

Sales info:

It is being sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, GooglePlay, Apple, and other online sites.

It has received several awards including: 2018 Solo Medalist Winner New Apple Literary Award E-book-General Fiction; 2020 Elite Choice Award Winner-Noir Fiction; 2020 Book Excellence Award Finalits Book in a Series; 2018 International Book Award Finalist-General Fiction; and 2018 Best Book Awards Finalist-General Fiction.



Sample text:

It was almost nine o’clock on a Monday morning when Police Lieutenant Nick Cisco and Sgt. Kevin McClosky pulled up in their unmarked cruiser in front of the Broome Street tenement. The meat wagon from the morgue was already there, its rear doors wide open to accept the latest human jetsam to be scraped from the Ward’s streets.

The stiff, a Negro man probably no more than twenty-five, was sprawled across the pavement, feet on the lower tenement step, his head a few feet from the gutter. The killing was not high profile enough for Coroner Walter Tomokai to handle so an assistant was given the thankless task of collecting the necessary forensic evidence.

A brown wooden handle above the man’s chest stood strong against the mid-morning breeze indicating where an ice pick had skewered his heart. Blood that had pooled around the body had already begun to harden at the edges. About a dozen onlookers, young and old alike, displayed the indifferent curiosity common to those who have seen it all before. A uniform cop stood between them and the body.

“Jesus Christ, it’s Frank Gazzi. So this is where they buried him,” McClosky said as he switched off the ignition and stepped out to the street.

“He’s still got his badge,” Cisco said. “Come on, let’s get started.”

The two homicide detectives examined the body while the ghouls from the morgue snapped their pictures. McClosky turned to Gazzi, “Frank, you the first one at the scene?”

“Yeah. I was around the corner when I heard a woman scream, so I came running. Took about thirty seconds. When I got here he was still breathing, coughing up blood, but breathing. Two uniforms got here a few minutes later,” Gazzi said nodding over his shoulder to the police cruiser. “They’re upstairs now.”

Book translation status:

The book is available for translation into any language except those listed below:

Already translated. Translated by Tochukwu Benedict Ezeifekwuaba
Translation in progress. Translated by Francesca Marrucci
Already translated. Translated by Juliana Franco
Already translated. Translated by Guillermo Barrera Gómez
Author review:
Guillermo once again has done an excellent English to Spanish translation of my book, the first novel of my Passaic River Trilogy. As with the second book, "Payback-Tales of Love, Hate and Revenge," his fluency in the American street vernacular was flawless, as was his patience. He has committed to do the third book and I strongly recommend him.

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