LEADFOOT By Eric Beetner
November 1, 2016
In May of 2015, Eric Beetner brought the McGraw clan roaring onto the page behind the wheel of a high-toned muscle car, hell-bent for leather in his novel RUMRUNNERS. The McGraws have always been transporters for the Stanley family, Iowa’s local organized crime family. If the Stanleys needed something brought from here to there, be it sitting in the passenger seat or tied up in the trunk, a McGraw would be the one to drive it there. It doesn’t matter what happens when they arrive: McGraws don’t participate in any of the illicit activities. That’s why Calvin McGraw has always been an outlaw, not a criminal. They sit in the car waiting, with hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel. In RUMRUNNERS, family patriarch Calvin McGraw is an unstoppable force of nature, an octogenarian who you would expect to be sitting in a rocking chair watching Wheel of Fortune, not sitting behind the wheel of a car blowing past eighty miles per hour. When his son Webb went missing and his grandson Tucker needed help, Calvin answered the call one last time.
But what was it like, forty-five years ago? In 1971, organized crime was changing. The winds of change where blowing, after all. Tastes had changed to favor hard drugs, not just booze and sex. So When Cantrell from the Nebraska crime family starts to make inroads into Iowa, a mob war starts to grow from simmer to boil and no one wants a war. With this threatening overture in place, Beetner starts to work his pulp word craft. And it is wonderful.
“But now it seemed like Calvin had stepped knee deep in whatever pile of shit was building between Iowa and Nebraska in a turf war for the saddest plot of criminal empire in America. Miles and miles of corn fields spread thick with manure. A stretch of land literally covered in bullshit.”
The McGraws are about family and loyalty. It’s what makes them outlaws, not criminals. Calvin’s son Webb is just setting out to take his place in the family business: he’s behind the wheel in his own solo adventure. This is the adventure that cements the kind of man that he will become for the rest of his life, as well as setting the course for last year’s RUMRUNNERS. And then there’s the matriarch of the McGraw family, Dorothy. Here’s a grand lady that more than holds her own. Beetner has already nailed the character of Calvin- a gruff man’s man who would rather spend the time driving over a problem than talking about it. But the ladies tend to get short shrift in crime fiction: either they need the fellas to save the day or take them to bed. Not Dorothy. She knows what kind of business her husband is tied up in. She is an equal part of this marriage and the gentle dialog between the two is wonderful. Sure, she has a bottle hidden in the house that Calvin doesn’t know about, but in 1971, you cope any way you can. Dorothy’s scenes in LEADFOOT ring true with real emotion. When she’s forced to take matters in her own hands? Those matters get dealt with a sure hand. Dorothy is the emotional backbone of this novel.
Clocking in at a compact 214 pages, it’s astounding to me that there are there two concurrent, fully formed story arcs rocketing through this book. Webb is dealing with the mess that has become of his first solo mission, while Calvin helps deal with the encroaching Nebraskans. While all of this gasoline and rubber is spent on the Midwestern highways and byways, Beetner continues to pack each page with real heart and emotion.
With LEADFOOT, Eric Beetner once again proves that he is the one true master of the modern pulp novel.