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The Pinball Wizards who made a lot more than 25 cents

Novel

Every Man For Himself

By Mark Hannon

Apprentice House Press

427 pages, $19.99

There aren’t many Buffalonians around who still remember the infamous “Pinball Scandal” of the early 1950s.

More than six decades ago, many Buffalo bars and restaurants had pinball machines that could be mechanically rigged into gambling devices. In terms of taking people’s money away, they were almost as effective as the slot machines you’ll find in a casino.

Gambling on pinball was illegal, but there was big money to be made. First, the small-time criminals ran the operation. Then the Mafia got involved. There were acts of violence and payoffs. Some crooked cops and politicians were allowed to dip their beaks into the well of good fortune, in exchange for looking the other way.

Ultimately, many of the perpetrators got indicted. Some went to jail. Some city officials and cops lost their jobs, and some of them also went to prison.

It’s a long-forgotten story, but author Mark Hannon, a retired firefighter from Buffalo, brings it to life in his gritty and very enjoyable historical novel, “Every Man For Himself.”

Hannon tells the story through Buffalo Police Gambling Squad Detective Pat Brogan, a hard-working South Buffalo Catholic who is strugging to work his way through some haunting memories of his military service in World War II. Brogan finds himself in the middle of a major investigation that targets some of his fellow officers and reaches into the highest offices of City Hall.

All kinds of Buffalo landmarks, from the old bars on Broadway to the mansions on Delaware Avenue, form the backdrop for Hannon’s hard-edged and interesting story.

Obviously well-informed about the ways of old-time Buffalo police officers and politicians, Hannon keeps his story moving along nicely. This isn’t another “City of Light,” but it’s a fine addition to the pantheon of books about the darker side of Buffalo’s history.

Dan Herbeck is a veteran Buffalo News reporter and the co-author, with Lou Michel, of “American Terrorist.”

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