Sometime last year, I was sitting at home late one night and watching At the Movies with Margaret & David. For those people not familiar with the program, it’s basically two people (Margaret and David), reviewing current release or soon to be released films. Anyway, on their Cannes Film Festival special, they discussed a soon to be released film titled Lawless, based on the book The Wettest County in the World. I was immediately enthralled and promised myself that I would be watching the film as soon as it hit cinemas, which I did. And I LOVED IT! So naturally I had to read the book, which I have just done. And I enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as the film, which is a shame but those damn liberties that Hollywood like to take really got to me in the film and I felt that it worked a little better. So what’s it all about?
The Wettest County in the World (now republished as Lawless) centres around three brothers in Franklin County, Virginia in the prohibition era – Howard, Forrest and Jack Bondurant. The book is written by Matt Bondurant, who is the grandson of Jack and is based on the true story of the three brothers and their ongoing battle with the law in the late 1920’s and into the 1930’s. Illegal liquor was a lucrative business in the prohibition era, but even when prohibition was lifted in 1933, there were still plenty of moonshiners around as most people still preferred to pay for the illegal stuff, than pay the taxed prices of legal alcohol. Just about everyone had illegal stills back then and the Bondurants were no exception. The local police generally turned a blind eye, but when the Commonwealth Attorney shows up with new law enforcers, the game changes completely. What was once a game for everyone becomes one that only the hardest can play and if you don’t win it, you’re likely to end up dead. The Bondurant Boys were bootleggers, brawler and “hardboiled sons of bitches”. When the lawmen are asking for money for safe passage throughout the county, the Bondurants are some of the only men who don’t pay up – no one bothered them before, so why should they pay now?
Matt Bondurant has an exciting family history and one that I am a little bit jealous of. While the book is based on true events, due to a lack of records, Bondurant has had to be a little creative with some parts. There are few accurate records from that time and Bondurant found himself relying on newspaper reports and accounts from people who knew his grandfather and granduncles at that time. The three brothers seemed to be very complex sort of men and are the most unlikely of heroes. It’s difficult not to like them – despite their poor reputations. While I may have preferred the film adaptation to the book, I’m sure if I had read the book first it would have been the opposite. But whether you watch the film or read the novel, you will find it difficult not to get completely involved in this story and wish that you had a family history as exciting and outlawish as this one.
RATING – 8 out of 10. The book was exciting and well written, but I constantly found myself comparing it to the film. I know I shouldn’t have done this, but I just couldn’t help myself.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – lovers of history and anyone who loves a bit of shoot ‘em up gangster action.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – my favourite was Forrest Bondurant. I think perhaps the fact that Tom Hardy portrayed him in the film may have swayed me a little, but for me he was the most interesting and complex of the brothers – on the screen and on the page.