My second book on the quest was inspired by the story it tells. While I recommend the book heartily, I want to tell the story first. Here it is, as best I can remember it, and get the details right.
We start in 1930s New York City with an aging (about 60) bum named Michael Malloy. Malloy, in better days, had been a fireman, but it was the Depression and everybody was poor, which made Malloy drink, which made him an alcoholic, which made him a bum. Specifically, a bum without family or close friends. Malloy frequents a speakeasy (it’s Prohibition AND a Depression) run by a small-time hoodlum named Anthony Marino. It being the Depression, Marino is also poor. He wants some money and eventually hatches a scheme with a couple of cohorts. They will insure Michael Malloy’s life, kill him, and collect the money.
Somehow, they do insure Malloy. Next, Marino approaches him and explains that due to competition, he’s opening up credit to Malloy again. Malloy is overjoyed and they funnel booze into him, with hopes that he’ll drink himself to death. When he doesn’t, the gang decides to go for tougher measures. They start cutting his drinks with wood alcohol, which can induce blindness in small quantities and can kill in moderate quantities. This has no effect on Malloy. They eventually quit cutting, and just start feeding him wood alcohol. When this has no effect, they try horse linament and rat poison (according to some, not mentioned in the book). Nothing happens.
Someone realizes food might help. Marino takes a can of sardines, opens them and leaves them out to rot. They do. A “sandwich” of rotted sardines, carpet tacks, and metal shavings is made for Malloy. He eats it. No problems.
Realizing that food will not help, the gang encourages Malloy to drink himself senseless on another night. He does, then they take him to a public park. It’s 13 below zero, and they strip him of his shirt, pour five gallons of water on him and leave him. The next morning, Malloy is back in the speakeasy, none the worse for wear.
One of the gang knows a cab driver, whose help is enlisted. With a fall-down-drunk Malloy in tow, they travel to the edge of nowhere, and the driver runs over Malloy at 45 miles per hour. The gang runs off. They do not see Malloy for a few days. No hospitals do either. Confused, the gang finds another vagrant who looks like Malloy and runs him over too. He gets hospitalized for 55 days, which no one knows at this point. Of course, in the meanwhile, the real Malloy reappears, slightly injured, but none the worse for wear.
Finally, the gang gets Malloy to drink himself unconscious again, takes him to nearby room, and connects a tube to the gas line and runs it down Malloy’s throat. He finally dies. Another member of the gang, an undertaker, hastily has Malloy buried.
Of course, the gang bickers among themselves, talks too much, and generally ends up getting caught. Four of the five main conspirators are executed in the electric chair. The fifth is imprisoned for life.
2. On the House by Simon Read
This is the story that Simon Read tells. I really don’t know much else to say about it. The book isn’t particularly well written, but as far as I can tell, it’s the only book anybody ever wrote about the whole thing, so if you want to learn more about it, Simon Read pretty well cornered the market.
One can only hope that the Coen brothers have heard about this.