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Alumnus's novel about Omaha kidnapping hits bookstores, Jan. 24

The tradition of assigning difficulty to the practice of writing extends at least as far back as the emergence of the first literary critics and reading audiences.

William Faulkner said the profession was no less than the repeated “splendid failure to do the impossible” in the teeth of a cruel and unforgiving world. But Faulkner was also convinced, as is Creighton University alumnus and author of the forthcoming novel World, Chase Me Down (Penguin, $16), Andrew Hilleman, BA’04, MA’07, that the end effect of the discipline was far more pleasurable than painful.

“It sounds like a cliché — and a really immense cliché — but if you really are enjoying it, it doesn’t feel like work at all,” said Hilleman, who is enjoying the fruits of seeing his first novel published by a major house and generating positive reviews from important literary corners. “Sure, I lose sleep over it, I wrestle with the work. But I wouldn’t trade any of that. I was having fun. People talk about how hard writing is but sometimes I think they forget how much fun it is. I relish the process. Otherwise, the ends are not worth the means.”

World, Chase Me Down centers on the exploits of Pat Crowe, a sometime butcher and meatpacker and resolute criminal, who pulled off the nation’s first successful kidnapping-for-ransom caper when he pulled Edward Cudahy Jr., heir to the Cudahy meatpacking fortune, off an Omaha street — just south of the Creighton campus, in fact — in the winter of 1900. Crowe demanded $25,000 in gold for the boy’s return, got it, and took off on a cross-country spree that echoed the wiles of the earlier James-Younger Gang and foretold the stories of Depression-era Robin Hoods like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde.

And the Crowe of Hilleman’s novel — who finds himself out of work after his small business folds to the pressures of competition with the Cudahy empire — could easily find his semblable in the 21st century. He is a desperate man straitened by economic and political forces he doesn’t comprehend and for which he finds only transgressive remedies.

Michael Punke, bestselling author of The Revenant, said of World, Chase Me Down: “Like the best historical fiction, its themes are as contemporary as breaking news.”

“The book is political,” Hilleman said. “It deals with monopoly, it deals with big business shutting down small business. Even though these events took place 120 years ago, this story is a drama that has been taking place in our country for a long time.”

At root, it’s an Omaha story by an Omaha native, and Hilleman said he’s eager to share it with a wide audience. Molding the story to his own literary vision has been a huge part of the enjoyment, he said.

“I think Pat Crowe’s story is an important part of Omaha’s history and of American history,” Hilleman said. “That’s why I wrote the book. I hope people read it and find his story resonates in their own lives. I’ve been having a blast doing the revision and going back over parts of the story that even I had forgotten were in the book.”

World, Chase Me Down will be published by Penguin, Jan. 24. Hilleman will hold a reading and signing at the Bookworm, 2501 S. 90th St., Ste. 111, Jan. 29 at 1 p.m.


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