The Golden Boy of Crime

The Almost Certainly True Story of Norman “Red” Ryan

Reviewed by Tanja Hütter

Posted July 28, 2020

Jim Brown, a journalist of thirty years and a CBC Radio personality, was asked if he wanted to write a book about a bank robber. He was initially unsure but slightly intrigued at the prospect. But after discovering what passed as journalism in the early twentieth century, Brown was hooked.

Writing his biography of the gangster Norman Ryan was not entirely a labour of love. Ryan was a malicious, handsome, murderous, charming, misunderstood, narcissistic mastermind, a punk, a genius inventor, a thieving reprobate — and a poet. In The Golden Boy of Crime, Brown examines the “wild, fascinating mess” of Ryan’s exploits with much humour and insight.

Ryan was known within some circles as “Red.” But it was Ernest Hemingway, no less — on his first assignment for the Toronto Star — who first called him “Red” Ryan in print. Hemingway also fabricated nicknames for other members of Ryan’s crew.

Brown’s book includes many images that offer a sense of the hyperbole and drama that propelled the news stories of the 1920s and early 1930s. These stories laid the foundation for Ryan’s serendipitous meeting with Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, his brief flirtation with being a “responsible citizen,” and his ultimate demise in 1936 with “the life shot out of him” by police.

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This article originally appeared in the August-September 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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