Father Divine's Bikes

Fiction - Crime
352 Pages
Reviewed on 04/02/2018
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Ray Simmons for Readers' Favorite

I don’t usually read stories in the crime genre. Not because I don’t like them, but because there are so many on television. And to be honest, a lot of them are really good. But I was attracted to Father Divine’s Bikes for one simple reason. I know who Father Divine was. I had a feeling this book would be a window into a time, place, and people that we don’t read or even hear about much anymore. I was right. Father Divine’s Bikes is a brilliant snapshot of America right after World War II. It is the best portrait of Newark, New Jersey during that time when African Americans were pouring into the industrial North as they fled the Jim Crow South. This is the America we are heirs to and there are few books that get it so realistically right.

The writing in Father Divine’s Bikes is superb. I have only passed through Newark once, but I feel author Steve Bassett got it right. I have known quite a few people from there, and what they say, and how they act is what I see in this novel. The characters are so real, almost painfully real in some cases. The priests, the cops, the altar boys, and the prostitutes, they all ring true. The plot is as real as life in that time. Gangs and gangsters divided into ethnic armies, all vying for their piece of the American pie. I love the raw reality, the incorrect political speech, and the passionate writing that may very well push Father Divine’s Bikes into the ranks of the great American classics.

Diksha Sundriyal

Steve Bassett’s Father Divine’s Bikes starts with a gruesome murder. However, perceiving it to be a regular murder-mystery would be a mistake. As soon as we are made familiar with the case at hand, the story quickly turns its attention towards the more complex surroundings of post-war era Newark. The tale flows from one character to another, and we are introduced to their backgrounds and conditions. Starting from a teenager, Richie, who is caught in the network of illegal activities, the story comes full circle, encompassing the spectrum of a multitude of characters that are somehow connected in this complex world. It tackles various themes, ranging from social issues like racism to the struggles of poverty and the turmoil of teenagers.

To begin with, I was taken completely off guard by the manner of storytelling in this novel. It was unexpected but pleasant, and I loved it. There were so many shades in this story that if it had been told any differently perhaps, it wouldn’t have been so impactful. I loved the variety of the characters, and how the style of story altered with respect to their perspectives. Steve Bassett has done a great job in writing this book. I liked how the story trickled from one character to another, changing its viewpoint after a couple of chapters. It was like they were passing a baton of some sorts. It is certainly one of the best writing styles I have seen in any novel recently. The backstories of the characters were another thing that I thoroughly enjoyed. Rest assured, Father Divine’s Bikes is all good things packed into one book.

Kathryn Bennett

Father Divine's Bikes by Steve Bassett takes the reader into the dark underbelly of Newark. A city that was able to thrive during WWII, but once peace comes to the world, it leaves many jobless and the city descends into crime and chaos. The police protect the people they should be arresting and those who need help are left out in the cold. Joey and Richie are just two youngsters who are wrapped up in the crime that has taken over the city, and their parish priest, Father Nolan, seriously worries that the boys will end up stuck in a life of crime when they could have better.

I love fiction books that deal with things that are relevant and that could just as easily be happening in the real world. Father Divine's Bikes is certainly one of those types of books. There is a world of chaos and crime and it is sweeping up everyone that it can possibly take, including two youngsters, Joey and Richie. To me, Joey and Richie could so easily be the neighborhood boys that will help you out carrying groceries by day, but by night they get drawn into the world of crime around them because money is hard to refuse when you don't have much. Father Nolan is the friendly neighborhood priest who really wants to do good. The characters truly do feel comfortable and like old friends to me, and I loved that about this book.

The writing itself is engaging and keeps you wanting to turn the pages and find out what will happen next. I don't want to give any major spoilers away, but if you like a book that is full of crime, with characters that you truly do feel could come off the page and be right near you, then this is going to be a book for you to read. Author Steve Bassett knows how to be engaging and gritty, with a bit of a no-holds-barred style to what is happening in Newark in his fictional story. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Christian Sia

Father Divine’s Bikes by Steve Bassett is a story about murder, mob wars, and the journey of two altar boys struggling to rise above the poverty line — consumed by the desire to experience “heaven on earth.” It’s Newark in 1945, a place where danger lurks around every corner. With the truce between two powerful gangs ended, violence becomes the order of the day. The boys, Joey and Richie, are hired by the black bookies. Their parish priest as well as the police fear for their lives — they could be embarking on a path of no return, getting absorbed into a world of crime. While Lt. Nick Cisco and Sgt. Kevin McClosky investigate three murders from the Third Ward, there are clear signs that there could be a connection between the mob war, the murders, and a police captain.

I was pulled in from the very beginning by the beauty of the prose and Steve Bassett’s gift for plot. The author manages to weave different stories into a narrative that will have readers spellbound as they follow the memorable characters through a setting that is socially decaying and politically tense. The figure of Fr. Divine, the black evangelist, and his promise of “heaven on earth” is reminiscent of what happens when people become disenchanted, with poverty weighing on their shoulders and violence on their doorsteps. The setting is strong and it reflects the conflict that is skillfully developed throughout the narrative.

The author injects life and realism into the narrative, evoking images that readers will quickly recognize. Here is fiction that reads like a real crime story, with characters that are imbued with a realistic humanity — they are flawed, they are struggling, and they are conflicted. The author weaves powerful themes into the narrative — religion and faith, crime and freedom, hope and despair, family and friendship, and a lot more — and these read like beautiful colors in the fabric of this tale. It’s fast-paced with interesting twists, suspenseful, and deeply satisfying. Father Divine’s Bikes is a riveting story told by a master storyteller.

Romuald Dzemo

Father Divine’s Bikes by Steve Bassett is a compelling crime novel with a powerful setting against the backdrop of 1945 Newark, a society just emerging from the war. The reader is thrust into a world run by mobsters, where the conflict gets bloody. Now, the competing mobs have ended their truce and things get tense, with other players ready to get into the game. It’s against this backdrop that Joey Bancik and Richie Maxwell are recruited by the black bookies under the cover of newsboys. The reader follows the protagonist, Richie, on a perilous quest to achieve the promise of Father Divine’s “heaven on earth,” but Father Terry Nolan, the parish priest, and two homicide detectives fear for the lives of the kids, and rightly so. Can the kids avoid being sucked into a world of crime and tragedy, just to bring a few bucks home to their families?

Steve Bassett creates a story that is utterly absorbing with characters that are compelling and believable. The handling of conflict is exceptional and readers can’t help but be thrilled at the complex plot that melds crime with corruption. I loved characters like Lt. Cisco and his clairvoyance, but his fear of the kids getting hurt turns out to be true. The array of characters, including mobsters, corrupt cops, and innocent kids irresistibly pulled towards a life of crime are elements of this novel that create the tension that propels it forward. The author’s use of contrast and humor are masterly and they add to the strengths of the narrative, arresting the reader’s attention. Readers follow a gritty investigation into murders while caring about characters whose lives are in grave danger. Father Divine’s Bikes is a mesmerizing tale of two compelling characters, deeply human and broken, which makes it easy for readers to connect with them. But it is also a tale of a changing community, a community that once flourished but that is about to sink into violence. A real page-turner!