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Reviewed by Darryl Greer for Readers' Favorite
Jelly Bryce: FBI Odyssey is #2 in a trilogy by author and veteran police office Mike Conti. The trilogy charts the life and times of real life law enforcement hero, Delf A (“Jelly”) Bryce. Apparently the unusual nickname originated as “Jellybean” because of his penchant for fancy clothes. Whereas the first in the series covers Jelly’s life from childhood to his time as an officer in the Oklahoma City Police Department, this book takes us further in his career to the FBI and the favourite son of his boss and mentor, J. Edgar Hoover. Although the story itself is historical fiction focusing on Bryce’s life and exploits, it reads more like a biography. As is demonstrated early on in the narrative, Bryce was somewhat of a prodigy with firearms from a very early age. By the time he joined the OCPD, he was already a legend in law enforcement circles, his reputation eventually coming to Hoover’s attention.
In the days of the Wild West, Bryce would have been classed as a gunslinger — but on the right side of the law. In 1945, Life magazine clocked Bryce’s draw and fire at two-fifths of a second. At the FBI, he advanced quickly through the ranks, at the same time gaining the respect of his fellow agents, developing a reputation for great instincts and investigative skills. Despite this, he is remembered in the Bureau more for his remarkable ability as a “quick draw” shooter. He would routinely toss a coin into the air, then draw whatever pistol he happened to be carrying, and shoot the coin out of the air. He was considered the FBI’s best trick shooter, even though he remained a field agent.
While Jelly Bryce: FBI Odyssey is, as noted above, a work of fiction, the meticulous research Mike Conti has put into his subject and the surrounding historical events renders the book a fascinating read, even if 1930s gangsters, guns, and dynamite thrown from speeding cars isn’t your thing. What Conti is writing about is history — it happened — only the dialogue is make believe. The reader is treated to remarkable details of the workings of the OCPD and the FBI, and those interested in ballistics won’t be disappointed either as guns and ammunition from that era are described in detail.
Yet, this is a novel and the action gets underway from the opening lines, at a time when Jelly is still a teenager. Conti’s narrative is so descriptive you can literally see the action as it unfolds and the dialogue could be a script for a fascinating movie. The characterisation is excellent, so no need to keep turning up earlier pages to see who’s who. The writing itself is flawless; the story easily flows from one scene to the next. If there was a downside for me, it was that I was disappointed when I arrived at the end. But then again, there’s another book on its way.