Selectively Lawless: The Story of Emmett Long, an American Original

Asa Duane Dunnington

Publisher: Primix Publishing Pages: 188 Price: (paperback) $9.99 ISBN: 9781957676753 Reviewed: June, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Selectively Lawless is a short biographical novel about the life of Emmett Long. The son of itinerant sharecroppers, Long used legal and illegal means to build a life for himself in early 20th century Oklahoma.

Author Asa Duane Dunnington brings a personal connection to his writing, having been married to Long’s niece. In a prologue, Emmett asks Asa to tell his life story honestly, without excusing his many crimes. This establishes Asa as the story’s narrator, recounting this loveable rogue’s adventures as he progresses from a poker cheat to a highly successful bootlegger and, finally to his transition into the legal business of ranching.

The criminal and violent aspects of Emmett’s life are recounted, including four murders, a bank robbery, and a sneaky win at Caesars Palace’s poker tables, but the emphasis remains on his more admirable qualities: loyalty, respect for women, and honor among thieves.

Some of Emmett’s exploits are highly entertaining, for example, when he attempts to ferry a bank safe out to his getaway car, just as the street is flooded with people leaving a showing of King Kong in the movie house around the corner. He also interacts with several historical figures, including William Hale, subject of the recent book and Oscar winning movie Killers of the Flower Moon; infamous bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd; and the novelist, Elmore Leonard.

The occasional comic line or wry description lifts the storytelling, but for the most part Dunnington’s authorial voice is intrusive, too often foreshadowing events or providing commentary when it isn’t needed. These tendencies lessen dramatic tension. Additionally, although the narrative is largely linear, italicized sections of backstory occasionally disrupt the reading experience.

Nonetheless, Dunnington is to be commended for creating a record of a man who was clearly a charismatic and unusual character—someone who despite modest beginnings and a dubious respect for the law, became a generous supporter of his local community and a much-loved family man.

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