COMING THIS SUMMER
My Name Is Joe LaVoie, a new suspense novel from W.A. Winter, will be released in August by Seventh Street Books, publisher of The Secret Lives of Dentists.
Here's a synopsis and brief sample from the new book.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1991, the tattered remnants of the notorious LaVoie clan gather for a makeshift reunion. Ronnie, a faded beauty who’s outlived three husbands and countless lovers, is the host. Her guests include eldest brother Eugene, the family’s detested Judas; Adriana, flamboyant widow of youngest brother Michael, who was presumed killed in Vietnam; and Joe, lone survivor of the trio of fraternal desperadoes who terrorized the Upper Midwest during the hot summer of 1953, finally murdering a police officer and a hostage and leading police on a month-long manhunt before being gunned down in a Minnesota swamp.
Also present, if only in Joe’s fevered memory, are the ghosts of his hapless father and mother, gunslinging brothers Jack and Bernard, and beautiful, otherworldly, and ultimately tragic sister Janine. Then there’s the specter of H.V. Meslow, the obsessed cop who pursued Joe and his brothers to their spectacular end but will apparently be satisfied only when he claims Joe’s soul. Crippled by a police bullet during the climactic shootout, Joe has spent the past thirty-eight years in a wheelchair. Now, dying, he’s desperate to know – and terrified to learn – the awful truth behind his family’s demise.
My Name Is Joe LaVoie is not a true story, but an extensive fiction recalling an actual murderous crime spree that shocked the Upper Midwest in the 1950s.
During the trials that winter and the following spring, the prosecutors called us the “criminal LaVoie family.” They tried to make the juries believe that the itch to rob gas stations and steal from liquor stores and murder policemen and hostages was as much a part of being a LaVoie as the color of our eyes or the size of our hands and feet. As a matter of fact, Ferdinand Twyman, the Hiawatha County Attorney, bent over backwards to link the small stature of the LaVoie men with an “anger in the blood” that “eventually and inevitably” drove us to gun down larger men. We couldn’t help ourselves, Twyman told those jurors. Although we knew the difference between right and wrong (we’d been brought up by a God-fearing Christian mother after all), we were “driven by other inherited forces to commit heinous, unpardonable crimes.”
No one would deny there was a criminal streak in the family. The Old Man was a convicted thief, robber, and check-kiter. He had been in and out of jail for this or that offense since he was fourteen. He’d been involved, for that matter, in any number of scams and rackets that he’d never done time for, including “odd jobs” for Bunny Augustine, the Northside gangster. His oldest son, Eugene, before he accepted Jesus Christ as his Personal Savior, was a determined though not very skillful thief, had spent a year in reform school at sixteen and eighteen months at the Cloud by the time he was twenty-one. The Old Man’s second and third sons, Jack and Bernard, were troublemakers as far back as anyone could remember, picking fights, breaking windows, stealing apples and tomatoes and cigarettes, and setting off false alarms at the fire box on the corner when they were still in knee pants. Jack was the instigator, the ringleader, but Bernard (and, a little bit later, yours truly) proved only too willing to follow him. Jack and Bernard both spent time at the juvenile detention center in Red Wing, and Bernard later got to know the inside of the Cloud, though, truth be told, it should have been Jack or at the very least both of them, while I was saved from the same fate by a three-year involuntary enlistment in the Army.
Our mother was a simple and naive farm girl susceptible to fits of severe depression called “nervous breakdowns” in those days. She’d moved to Minneapolis in her late teens with the intention of becoming a school teacher, but instead, in the worst decision of her life, married John LaVoie, a pint-sized lowlife she met at a Svenskarnas Dag celebration at Minnehaha Falls, and resigned herself to raising their many successive children. She was eventually overwhelmed by motherhood, the family’s poverty, her husband’s brutality, and the criminal activities of her children. (Daughter Ronnie spent three months in the women’s correctional facility at Shakopee for shoplifting at the Woolworth’s downtown.)
Well, the Old Man might have been bad to the bone and Mother a hopeless wreck, but what Jack, Bernard, and I were, through everything that happened and even when we were technically adults, was a trio of stupid kids. That’s what the gawkers, vandals, and would-be bodysnatchers never understood that the three of us were very ordinary, very confused, and very frightened cases of “arrested development.” (A latter-day sociologist’s term. Pardon the pun.) I don’t say that for sympathy – fuck sympathy, which we don't deserve and which wouldn’t do us any good now anyway – but but only for the record, for whatever that’s worth.