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The Mysterious Montague: A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robberyby Leigh Montville
Synopses & Reviews
The restaurant sat at the bottom of a large bowl of Adirondack darkness. The surrounding mountains, beautiful during the day, forest green and forest wild, still made their presence known during the night. They shut out all horizons: zipped up, locked down, tucked in the well-scattered population between the New York towns of Au Sable Forks and Jay, under a black and tight blanket. The lights from the restaurant were pinpricks of isolated civilization.
The porch light was still lit.
The inside lights were still lit.
Proprietor Kin Hana and his wife, Elizabeth, and an employee, Paul Poland, finished the work of Monday night in the first hours of Tuesday, August 5, 1930. The last three customers were gone, but money had to be counted, tables cleared, floors washed, stock replenished. A last cup of coffee had to be drunk, a joke told.
The restaurant, simply known as Hana's to the local residents, was a roadhouse on Route 9, the two-lane asphalt highway that meandered down from the Canadian border, fifty-eight miles to the north, then to Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs, then Albany and all the way to New York City, Broadway, 275 miles to the south. Adventure had come to the road in 1920, especially in the dark, with the advent of the Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition, and an atmosphere of car chases and gunplay as smugglers tried to bring distilled spirits from one country to the thirsty citizens of another.
The restaurant was a modest part of the excitement. A man could buy a drink at Hana's, could also buy a bottle to take home, but this was not unusual. A man could buy a drink at most of the roadhouses along Route 9. The area was awash in alcohol. Farmers rented out their barns and hay wagons to smugglers. Mechanics in Saranac Lake fitted out automobiles for the chase, engines cranked to racetrack speed, false gas tanks and false bottoms installed to convey every possible ounce of hard liquor and beer. Freight trains contained hidden cargo. Boats on Lake Champlain carried more contraband than sightseers. The dance was a decade old, a formalized routine of winks and nods, hide-and-seek, punctuated by occasional murders and publicized court trials. Illegality was the norm.
"I believe that 90 percent of the people in the county were opposed to Prohibition," one Au Sable Forks resident later said. "Not one farmer in twenty-five would not shield, help, or hide a rumrunner. The usual compensation for their help was a bottle of liquor, more highly prized than money."
Kin Hana was Japanese, a relentless bundle of hustle and bustle, always on the job, meticulous about cleanliness. He considered himself a restaurant owner, not a bootlegger. The liquor business was something that had developed by circumstance. He provided good food at modest prices, typical American fare, even set up a roadside stand in the summers to sell hamburgers and hot dogs to travelers who didn't have time for a full meal.
His establishment was run with much attention to detail. All kitchen employees had to wear hairnets. He inspected the waitresses every day from behind his rimless glasses, made the women hold out their hands, checked to see if their fingernails were clean, then looked down to see if their shoes were shined. His children laughed at this fussiness, and maybe the waitresses did, too, but never in front of him. He
The best-selling author of The Big Bam offers an offbeat saga of 1930s Hollywood, profiling camera-shy golf legend and Tinseltown trickster John Montague, who mingled with Hollywood royalty and earned a reputation as the world's greatest golfer until his true identity was revealed as a fugitive wanted for armed robbery in upstate New York. 75,000 first printing.
John Montague was a boisterous enigma. In the 1930s, he was called the world's greatest golfer by famed sportswriter Grantland Rice. He could drive the ball 300 yards and more, or he couldchip it across a room into a highball glass. He played golf with everyone from Howard Hughes and W. C. Fields to Babe Ruth and Bing Crosby. Yet strangely, he never entered a professional tournament or allowed himself to bephotographed. Then, a Time magazine photographer snapped his picture with a telephoto lens and police quickly recognized Montague as a fugitive with a dark secret. From the glamour of 1930s Hollywood, toJohn Montague's extraordinary skill and triumphs on the golf course, to the shady world of Adirondack rumrunners and the most controversial, star-studded court trial of its day, The MysteriousMontague captures a man and an era with extraordinary color, verve, and energy.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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