Bonnie and Clyde Radioactive

“Bonnie and Clyde: Radioactive” continues the “what-if?” adventures of the famous criminals. Courtesy/Pumpjack Press

The real-life path of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow took the famous criminals through Oklahoma. Even though they are long deceased, Bonnie and Clyde now have a reason to be in Norman.

How is that possible?

The fictional exploits of Bonnie and Clyde continue in a “what if?”-type book series written by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays.

Published by Pumpjack Press, the third and newest volume in the series is “Bonnie and Clyde: Radioactive.”

The authors tackled five questions related to the book:

1. Can you explain the premise of the series to readers?

The Bonnie and Clyde series imagines an alternative history in which the outlaw lovers don’t die in a hail of bullets outside Sailes, Louisiana, in the infamous 1934 ambush. Instead, they are kidnapped by a shadowy government organization whose mission is to defend the interests of the working class.

The outlaws are forced to become covert operatives because, during America’s Great Depression, desperate times call for desperate measures. The agency wants to deploy Bonnie and Clyde’s “special skills” to protect American democracy from the corrupting power of greed. Why? Their criminal past makes them expendable with no way to track their actions back to the agency.

The duo is sent on various deadly assignments; the first is stopping an assassination plot against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This scenario is rooted in a little-known fact from history — a self-declared anarchist, Giuseppe Zangara, did try to assassinate president-elect FDR in 1933. Obviously, he was unsuccessful but, tragically, the mayor of Chicago died in the attack.

This alt-history series is action-packed, steamy and funny, but it also has a poignant side. The story has two timelines; much of the action takes place in the 1930s and ’40s, but there’s also a 1980s timeline featuring the now-elderly (and newly widowed) Bonnie Parker. After living a lie for her entire life, this older Bonnie is determined that the truth come out, no matter the cost to herself. She teams up with a down-on-his-luck and incredulous investigative reporter, Royce, to track down who was behind the government agency running their covert activities so long ago.

2. Is this the final book in a trilogy?

Yes. The Bonnie and Clyde series comes to an end with “Radioactive,” unless we have the opportunity to turn it into an ongoing television series, in which case we have plenty of ideas for additional plot lines.

3. What adventure awaits Bonnie and Clyde in the latest book?

A decade has passed since the infamous outlaw lovers were spared their gruesome deaths and forced into a covert life. Now seasoned spies, they’re embedded in the Manhattan Project at Hanford, near Richland, Washington, as bar owners and petty crooks assigned to identify and disrupt foreign elements trying to gain access to America’s atomic secrets.

“Their fake covers allow Bonnie and Clyde to move easily through the shady underworld of the Hanford site — a top-secret 50,000-person industrial city in the middle of windswept, desolate eastern Washington where the plutonium for the atomic bombs was being generated. Bonnie and Clyde know who the bad guys are — Nazi and Russian spies — but there’s a long list of other suspects who may be trying to sell these enemies priceless military secrets.

As with the other books in the series, this plot builds on real history — Soviet and German spy networks infiltrated the Manhattan Project, with most historians agreeing that the Soviet Union was successful in that espionage, explaining how the Russians managed to build an atomic bomb so quickly after the war’s end.

This last book also wrestles more explicitly with the emotionally-charged issue of atonement, as Bonnie and Clyde confront the consequences of their criminal actions before they became spies and wonder if it’s possible to ever balance the scales by doing good.

4. Any Oklahoma connections readers should know about this time?

We both have roots in Oklahoma, with ancestors living in the area going back generations, and Clark’s dad was born in Roff. In this third book, we set a pivotal scene in Oklahoma because of our affection for the state. This scene is set in the modern timeline, when the elderly Bonnie and her investigative reporter partner Royce are working to uncover who was behind the secret government agency that forced the outlaws into a covert life. They are on the run from people who will stop at nothing to keep the truth from coming out. Bonnie and Royce hole up in Norman while waiting for Royce’s assistant to bring new evidence to them by Greyhound bus.

5. Looking back over the course of three books, what do you hope was accomplished with your alt-fiction characters?

We had clear goals for these books. First, we wanted to write fun, entertaining books that pull readers in and don’t let them go until the last page. And second, like most writers, we also want to change the world for the better, and we think fiction, and Bonnie and Clyde, can help.

Bonnie and Clyde, and others like them, were shaped by the fraught economic conditions of America’s Great Depression in the 1930s and ’40s. At least some of the anger and vitriol roiling the country right now is undoubtedly the product of a similar economic system that — no matter which side of the political spectrum you stand on — seems stacked against the working class.

“We see a role today for storytelling to remind readers that during the 1930s, the government reined in the more destructive aspects of capitalism with innovative policies and worker protections. We hope the three books in this series might play a small part in inspiring people to demand similar solutions to current economic challenges.”

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Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389

Twitter: @JimmieTramel

Scene Writer

Jimmie is a pop culture and feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, he has written books about former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State football coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389