Peer Praise

"Ron Robinson has given us one of American Literature's unforgettable characters---Preacher, a basically good, but deeply flawed depression-era safecracker.

"So adroitly does Robinson limn the mind and soul of Preacher that in spite of ourselves we are swept up in his struggles---and against our better judgment we find ourselves rooting for him to make it."

---William X. Kienzle, author of The Rosary Murders.

"Diamond Trump is a delightful and entertaining visit to Depression-era crime. It has all the pleasures of a caper story, a rich sense of character, and the freewheeling spirit of Bonnie and Clyde."

---J. Madison Davis, author of And the Angels Sing.

"You can't help but like Raymond "Preacher" Hardokker, the reluctant safecracker who lit the fuse in Ron Robinson's latest suspense novel Diamond Trump. You have to pull for a man who is trying to go square, especially when every step he takes carries him deeper into a deadly quagmire of underworld intrigue and he ends up with a gun at his head and a match in his hand and half the dynamite in South Dakota at his feet.

"And if you pull hard enough and can read the signs, you may track Preacher all the way from prison to "the whole truth" that the shot-down and blown-up powderhouse woman never told the authorities in those days after the blast. One truth, most assuredly, is that the 1930s in Siouxland had no more startling cataclysmic event than the 1936 New Year's Eve detonation of the Larson Hardware powder-house east of Sioux Falls. But the whole truth is that the 1990s in Siouxland had no more startling revelation than the story behind the blast, buried until now in the notes of Argus Leader reporter Alice Marie Sutherland.

"In Diamond Trump Robinson has produced a prize winner, a tale of suspense with one of the most intriguing yet disturbing endings in American fiction."

---Arthur R. Huseboe, Western American Literature. _____________________________________

Diamond Trump

On New Year's Eve 1936, the powder house in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, blew up, killing one person and turning a second victim into a circus freak. Robinson's second novel embroiders a fictional explanation how it all happened. Who would set the match to a structure housing over seven thousand pounds of explosives? For answer, Robinson (Thunder Dreamer, 1996) goes back to that old, old story, the criminal who couldn't quit the life. In the months leading up to the disaster, he shows safecracker Raymond ("Preacher") Hardokker pulled back into stealing. First, his reluctant friendship with naive fellow con Paul Haroldson leads him to break into the local A&P's new Toledo safe as if the best way to mentor Paul were to indulge his get-rich-quick fantasies. Then, after the heist has forced him to go on the lam and soured his romance with Francine, the waitress he's gotten pregnant, for keeps, he has the bad luck to meet his own mentor, Yankee Tom Bowdin. The meeting is no accident, he soon realizes; it's been set up--and so has Preacher--by Tom's current companions, Lou Fine and Bruno Bellini. As the prospective brains and artillery of a foolproof jewel robbery they've got lined up back in Sioux City, they know that Tom, once at the head of his profession, has lost his edge to morphine, and they use him to inveigle his former understudy into their gang. Even though he can see every move coming, Preacher can't outmaneuver Tom's deadly companions, and eventually he's sweating bullets in front of Isadore Weinberg's cannonball safe, with still worse developments around the corner. A frame tale subtly suggests that Preacher may not have the last word on the truth. An old-fashioned noir novel that could have come out of the period it so carefully evokes.----Kirkus Reviews

To paraphrase a line in Diamond Trump, it doesn't take a college education to figure it out. Ron Robinson can write. He can write dialogue and descriptive passages with the best of them. If he keeps writing crime novels, he can be on the par with Carl Hiasson, Dutch Leonard, Donald Westlake, and Harold Adams. Diamond Trump is inspired by the historical powder-house blast on New Year's Eve of 1936 outside of Sioux Falls.

I must confess I grew up hearing about the famous powder-house blast. My grandpa loved to tell the tale every New Year's---about how the sky lit up like a Roman candle and the house shook and the dishes came tumbling from the china closet. Then they all piled into his Buick in the direction of the blast. It became a New Year's ritual, his telling of the explosion. I am sure Grandpa's reaction and the reaction of those attending the party that night were similar to the ones the Sutherlands had in the beginning of the novel---a bomb, or somebody blew up Fantles or First National.

The first paragraph and even the first chapter could have been recollections Grandpa told Robinson had they ever met. Robinson writes, "Certain events slash across our lives like lightning, leaving us forever changed. For old-timers like me who grew up in or around Sioux Falls, South Dakota, such an event came on New Year's Eve 1936. We can still remember with crystalline clarity exactly where we were and what we were doing." The explosion fascinated young Jerimiah "Jay" Sutherland, son of an editor of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Through a circuitous route, Jay and his wife Alice (who had been at the Sutherland's party that New Year's Eve in 1936) end up in the 1970s back with the Argus Leader. Nearing retirement in 1991, Jay is cleaning out his desk when he finds the almost forgotten manuscript of one Raymond "Preacher" Hardokker.

Diamond Trump is Hardokker's story. Robinson captures the essence of the soul of Hardokker, a small-time criminal but a master safe cracker. Through scenes with many diverse characters---some straight but more of them of the criminal element---the reader learns what motivates Hardokker. It may seems strange to think it, but Preacher, the man who lit the fuse, through the pen of Robinson, becomes a noble, sensitive character.

Robinson writes that Iowa is a funny state wedged in between two of the biggest rivers in the world, thick black loam, rolling hills, not much good for anything but raising corn and hell. He even mentions that people still talk about Jesse James passing through on the way to robbing banks in Minnesota and that the John Dillinger gang and Pretty Boy Floyd holed up in Iowa while hiding from the law. The shoot-out scene between Preacher and Fine is as good as anything Dashiell Hammett has written. Robinson could have written for the Black Mask.

Near the end of the manuscript, Preacher reminisces, "I almost felt worse about Isadore Weinberg than I did myself, and I felt plenty bad about myself." His was a sad case, all about hard diamonds and soft hearts. Preacher reflects that life is cruel. Alice Sutherland in 1993 reflects that either life is cruel or it is not, but life goes on. I hope that Ron Robinson goes on writing.

---Jerry Bowman, Tempest Magazine, June 7, 2000

On New Year's Eve in 1936, a dynamite storage building east of Sioux Falls blew up. In his new novel, Sioux Falls writer Ron Robinson conjures up the man who lite the fuse and lets him tell the story of the mobsters and pawns behind the powderhouse blast.

The story begins at a New Year's Eve party in a Sioux Falls cathedral district home. A sudden flash lights the sky and windows shatter. Twelve-year-old Jay Sutherland jumps in the car with his Argus Leader editor father and they race to the scene. The only survivor, a naked woman found bleeding in a ditch, tells police a wild story of a gang of thieves and the theft of diamonds from a Sioux City jeweler.

Twenty years later, Argus reporter Sutherland sets out to tell the story behind the blast. He find Raymond G "Preacher" Hardokker, the man who set off the explosion. They meet in a cheap downtown hotel and Hardokker tells his tory. Finding the story unbelievable, not to mention libelous and obscene, the editor refuses to print it.

So Hardokker takes over as narrator of the book, telling the hard-boiled story of the criminal underworld, the layers of control and evil peeling away to eventually reveal those pulling the strings, men who lack "a bottom floor where the elevator stops," the bosses of the international diamond trade, forces in the pre-war struggle between Nazis and Jews.

Just out of prison for cracking safes, Hardokker had determined to go straight. But he loses both his new job and his girlfriend when the cops run him in for a burglary he didn't commit. That's when the Chicago gangsters show up and press him into service for the big diamond heist -- which leads them to the powderhouse in Sioux Falls for dynamite.

The story is told in believable language of thirties toughs, language veteran readers of crime novels will probably recognize, but accented with fresh and often amusing images. Some readers may be a repelled by Hardokker's narrative as was the fictional Argus editor. But those who enjoy stories of crime and intrigue will find themselves so engulfed in Robinson's rendition of a real event and familiar places they'll keep forgetting this is supposed to be fiction.

---South Dakota Magazine

Though it's categorized as crime fiction, Diamond Trump easily holds its own outside that genre; it's a great story, period. . . . Robinson's characters talk the talk and walk the walk of Depression-era criminal safecrackers so authentically and convincingly that you'd swear he was there with them sixty-plus years ago. . . . Highly recommended.

--- Ken Dunckel, Boxman.

Go Back