Page 16


.sea… -,4,…. Mayo Thompson 20 The Texas Observer The Santa Claus Bank Robbery By Bob Cochran The Santa Claus Bank Robbery, A. C. Greene, Alfred Knopf, 267 pages, $6.95 Austin A. C. Greene’s interest in history is apparent in his books. A Personal Country is filled with the history of West Texas, the country where Greene is at home. The Last Captive is a new edition of an old story, an account of a captured white boy’s life among the Indians, based on the autobiographical narrative of the captive. The Santa Claus Bank Robbery is no different. According to the author, it is a “human reconstruction” of a historical event the event being a bungled attempt to knock over the First National Bank of Cisco, Texas, on December 23. 1927, with one participant disguised in a Santa Claus suit. In Greene’s reconstruction, the event moves from comic beginnings the Santa outfit, the robbers neglecting to provide fuel for their getaway car to a bloody conclusion in which three of the four outlaws died, along with several lawmen. One was shot at the scene of the hold-up, another died in the electric chair, and a third, Santa himself, was lynched. Then, at the funeral of the lynched man, the comic reappears. As the mourners file from the chapel for the trip to the cemetery, a parade passes by, announcing the opening of the Christmas season at a department store. It is led, of course, by Santa Claus. GREENE KNOWS the event well. He wrote about it before, in A Personal Country, published in 1969. The Santa Claus robbery got two pages there. Which is about right, I think. Because Greene’s new book is most successful when central characters for glimpses of the larger world through which they move. As for example: an item about the Texas State Bankers Association’s attempting to curb the staggering popularity of bank robbing in the state \(three to four hold-ups per reward for killing a bank robber in the act but specifying “not one cent for a hundred live ones.” Greene goes on to recount various disasters and near disasters which followed upon this announcement. A mob at Andrews, Texas pursued and wounded a petroleum company scout, assuming that any stranger was a likely bank robber. And worse than that: at Stanton, a deputy sheriff promised work to four Mexican laborers, ordering them to await his return in front of the bank. When he reappeared, he promptly shot and killed two of them, said they had been plotting robbery, and In these and other, similar passages, Greene draws upon his considerable knowledge of the area and its history to provide an interesting and lively background for his story. But with the story itself, and with its leading characters in particular, he is less successful. The ratio of successes to failures is unfortunate. The dividing line is clear. When Greene writes as a reporter, or as a historian, working in what might be called the public realm, in names, places, dates and events in the realm of data, that is his narrative is generally coherent, well-paced, and even compelling. But when he writes as a novelist, working in the private realm, skirting the edges of fiction in an attempt to re-create the thoughts and conversation of the robbers, the result is often stilted, inconsistent, and unconvincing. And most of the time, in The Santa Claus Bank Robbery, he is working in the second realm. One example of Greene’s difficulties