NORTH AND CENTRAL by Bob Hartley. Tortoise Books (www.tortoisebooks.com), 2017, 240 pp., $15.97. ISBN 13:978-0-986-09228-2. Click here to purchase.
Many years ago, my family had a Zenith TV. We spent many happy hours gathered in front of it, watching the likes of Walt Disney, "The Monkees" and "Star Trek" (yes, the original series when it was originally on TV). But perhaps the shows that most resemble NORTH AND CENTRAL, a circa 1978 back story of the comings and goings surrounding Chicago’s Zenith plant and the dive bar serving the plant’s workers, would be a cross between the wild, wild west of "Bonanza," "The Untouchables" and "Gunsmoke." Except there were no Miss Kitty’s anywhere, not by a long shot. No, nothing like this ever showed up on our Zenith.
In 1978, TVs are now being made by Japan and the Chicago plant is headed for obscurity. Bar owner Andy narrates NORTH AND CENTRAL. He’s a lonely guy and now faces an even more bleak future when symptoms of Huntingtons’ disease, which killed his father, start to surface.
Desperate to stash some cash for what will no doubt be a long and winding road to the grave, Andy begins a crime spree with his cohorts, stealing Japanese TVs and VCRs to sell from a garage behind the bar. He does that and a host of schemes to pull in the cash.
The bar regulars are a far cry from TV’s Norm and the "Cheers" gang: a very far cry. Andy’s seeing Rita, his best friend Jerry’s wife, on the side, while policeman Jerry cheats and spends his paycheck on payday on all things less than savory. Rounding out the bar gang is Rita’s brother, Fatboy, a recovering addict and ex-con; Alvin “The Reverend” Anderson, Jerry’s African-American partner who doesn’t trust white folks; Railroad Bob, a down-and-out barfly; and the Skeletons, an aging husband and wife who don’t have a kind word for each other, ever. Unique? Yes Loveable? Perhaps. But you probably wouldn’t invite them to dinner at your mom’s house.
NORTH AND CENTRAL is a rough-and-tumble, gritty story of a working-class, blue-collar bar in decline along with the people it serves. In the end, it’s tough to tell the cops from the robbers, and everyone is a suspect.
What NORTH AND CENTRAL doesn't have: happy endings, sweetness and light, justice for all and is fun to read if you like general crime and tense moments.