Forgotten Books: The Ham Reporter by Robert J. Randisi
These days Bob Randisi is probably best known for his larky look at The Rat Pack, novels that aren't just fun to read but also map out show biz morality--or lack thereof--with skill and grace. Randisi's changed publishers for the next couple and I can't wait to read them.
But the novel I'd like to discuss here is Randisi's 1986 historical The Ham Reporter first published by Doubleday in 1986 and reprinted last year (along with The Disappearance of Penny and still available) by Stark House.
It's nice to think that Gene Barry's TV depiction of Bat Masterton was historically accurate but unfortunately--and I thought Barry was a good actor--it wasn't. Now that you've recovered from your shock I'll note that Randisi gives us the real story. Masterton ended up in New York working on a newspaper as a columnist and reporter. And because he was outspoken he got into one hell of a lot of trouble.
One such moment came when Masterton wrote a column accusing a boxing promoter and his minions of fixing a prize fight. The promoter blazed back accusing Masterton of having concocted his own reputation as an old west gunfighter and claiming that Masterton only shot young cowboys in the back.
During all this Masterton became friends with Damon Runyon. The Ham Reporter deals with how they get caught up in this and other battles in the New York City of 1911. Randisi brings the city to real life, high and low alike. There's a particularly good chapter on the street gangs of New York. It has the same resonance as Borges' piece on Billy The Kid who, as most people forget, was a NYC street ganger himself.
I've probably read this novel four times over the years. I like the people, the local color and the way Randisi demonstrates how press wars (Fox News anybody?) are nothing new.
A fine, rich novel that just about any reader will enjoy and appreciate.