Steve Bassett was born, raised and educated in New Jersey, and, although far removed during a career as a multiple award-winning journalist, he has always been proud of the sobriquet Jersey Guy. He has been legally blind for almost a decade but hasn’t let this slow him down. Polish on his mother’s side and Montenegrin on his father’s, with grandparents who spoke little or no English, his early outlook was ethnic and suspicious. As a natural iconoclast, he joined the dwindling number of itinerant newsmen roaming the countryside in search of, well just about everything. Sadly, their breed has vanished into the digital ether. Bassett’s targets were not selected simply by sticking pins in a map. There had to be a sense of the bizarre.
First there was The Long Branch Daily Record on the New Jersey shore. Mobsters loved the place. It was one of their favorite watering holes. A mafia soldier was gunned down not far from the paper. Great fun for a cub reporter. Curiosity got the better of him with his next choice the Pekin Daily Times located in central Illinois. Now a respected newspaper, it had once been the official voice of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920’s. Pekin had saved its bacon during the Depression by tacitly approving two time-honored money makers, prostitution and gambling, earning an eight-page spread in Life.
Next it was the Salt Lake Tribune. The Pulitzer Prize winner was then, and still is, considered one of the best daily newspapers west of the Rockies. Bassett’s coverage of the invective laden contract talks between the United Mine Workers and the three copper mining giants led to his recruitment by the Associated Press.
Bassett’s series for the AP in Phoenix uncovered the widespread abuses inherent in the Government’s Barcero program for Mexican contract workers. The series exposed working and housing conditions that transformed workers into virtual slave laborers, forced to buy at company stores, live in squalid housing and pay illegally collected unemployment taxes that went into the pocket of their bosses. The series led to Bassett’s promotion and transfer to the San Francisco bureau.
His final AP posting was in San Francisco. Bassett’s five-part series on the Wah Ching gained national attention by exposing the Chinese youth gang as the violent instrument of Chinatown’s criminal bosses.
Then came CBS television news in Los Angeles, three Emmy Awards for his investigative documentaries, and the prestigious Medallion Award presented by the California Bar Association for “Distinguished Reporting on the Administration of Justice.” Along the way he found time to author “The Battered Rich” (Ashley Books) exposing seldom discussed but widespread marital abuse among the affluent.
His book, “Golden Ghetto: How the Americans and French Fell In and Out of Love During the Cold War,” published in 2013 by Red Hen Press under its Xeno imprint, traces the sixteen-year history of what was then the largest U.S. Air Force base in Europe. It pieces together a love affair that defines trust, hope, renewal, prosperity, and finally the discovery that it was all a Cold War delusion.
His first fiction work, “Father Divine’s Bikes,” is a historical, noir crime novel set in 1945 Newark. A gangster war, three murders, a gun-toting paperboy, and the numbers racket punctuate the tragic story of two gritty altar boys adrift in a world of poverty, crime and hopelessness. The boys live in a world ripe for grifters like Father Divine and his promise of heaven on earth.
Bassett currently resides in Placitas, New Mexico with his wife Darlene Chandler Bassett.
To learn more about Steve Bassett, visit his website at www.stevebassettworld.com.
Listen to the Interview:
Topics of Conversation:
- About Father Divine’s Bikes and the Inspiration Behind the Story
- America’s Urban History
- Who is Father Divine?
- Multi-Generational Characters
- Interests Outside of Writing
- The VA and Assistance for Veterans with Disabilities
About Father Divine’s Bikes
FATHER DIVINE’S BIKES exposes the dark underbelly of 1945 Newark, New Jersey; a city that boomed during World War II but finds itself unable to cope with the peace that brings joblessness, despair and crime. As deeply-entrenched white enclaves are squeezed by the mass migration of blacks, escape routes for poor ethnic whites rapidly close. Two Catholic altar boys living in a world ripe for grifters, like Father Divine, soon learn that his promise of heaven on earth has hellish consequences.
In the autumn of 1945, a battle erupts when the city’s competing mobs end their truce. When it gets bloody, other criminal forces poise to move in. Black bookies, using Father Divine’s controversial International Peace Mission Movement as a front, recruit Joey Bancik and Richie Maxwell to run numbers under the guise of newspaper routes.
The boys’ families welcome the few bucks they can put on the table. Meanwhile, their parish priest and two homicide detectives fear the numbers racket will entrap the boys in a world of crime.
Turf wars, murders, and a corrupt police department in bed with the mob form a dark and gritty backdrop against a story of post-war Newark and the violence that permeated it.
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