Everyone thinks they know Charlestown, the small, historically Irish-Catholic neighborhood of Boston sometimes referred to as the bank robbery capital of the country.
The “Green Square Mile,” as it’s been known, has given novelists and filmmakers alike plenty of fodder for crime stories. Authors Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby, Gone), Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves), and Tom MacDonald (The Charlestown Connection, The Murder of Vincent Dunn), have each drawn inspiration from the tough, working-class town and its infamous Code of Silence. Dennis Leary and Ben Affleck have both put Charlestown’s rep for turning out bank robbers at the core of films, Leary with Monument Ave., and Affleck with The Town, based on Hogan’s novel.
But with The Shadow King, a Charlestown crime novel at last has a Townie-born and bred author, Bryant Jordan.
“The idea for the story came from some old congressional testimony I came across while in Washington,” Jordan said. “Like my protagonist, Jimmy Lyons, I was always interested in movies. The testimony I found dealt with a very different kind of entertainment-industry scandal, one that planted the seed for The Shadow King.
In the novel, Jimmy Lyons agrees to help Chinatown restaurant owner Zhang Wei get in touch with a Townie gangster, Mickey Ryan. Zhang wants to buy back some old movies Ryan stole from him, and offers Lyons $2,000 just to connect him to Ryan. He takes the deal, albeit reluctantly. His own gang-connected father had been killed years earlier, and Lyons is in no hurry to follow in those footsteps. But he soon finds himself in the middle of a possible gang war as Zhang, Ryan and South Boston mobster Whitey Bulger vie for the films that have a whiff of blackmail about them. And if that’s not enough to worry about, he’s being stalked by the man who killed his father.
Though fiction, Jordan sets the story against the backdrop of Charlestown in 1974, as neighborhood drugs are getting harder, overdoses are claiming lives, and armed robberies, including of banks, are taking a heavy toll. Adding to the tension is the looming plan to desegregate Boston schools through forced busing. Charlestown, a nearly all-White community that wants to keep it that way, is on edge over the thought of sending its children to predominantly Black schools while Black students sit in Charlestown classrooms.
“I spent nearly 40 years writing non-fiction. I covered courts, cops, town government, business. Everything except sports. The second half of my career I spent covering the military,” Jordan said. “There’s no way I could write a novel set in Charlestown, or anywhere, really, and leave out the harsh realities, the dark side. Every place has a dark side. It’s just important to remember that everyplace has a good side, as well.”
Bryant Jordan was born and raised in Charlestown. He graduated from Charlestown High School in 1969 and several months later joined the Army. He served in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division from 1970 to 1971. A 1979 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he earned a BA in Journalism/English Studies. He worked for several newspapers in Massachusetts, including The (Quincy) Patriot-Ledger, The Cape Cod Times and The (Attleboro) Sun Chronicle. He also was the Business Editor for The Keene Sentinel and a correspondent for The Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire. He later worked for Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times, just outside Washington, DC, and Military.com, a DC-based online news operation, where his beats included Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the White House.
Jordan retired and moved to Ireland with his Charlestown-born and raised wife, Linda, in 2016.