Vince and Joey Rendino are orphan boys growing up surrounded by the Mob sometime in the late 50s. As older brother Joey grows in power in the local Mob, he tries to keep younger brother Vince out of The Life. Of course, surrounded by it in the middle of the Little Italy of East Harlem, it’s not always possible. As Joey becomes more involved with The Life, he becomes more disillusioned with it as well. Finally, he comes up with the brilliant idea of kidnapping and ransoming their fellow gangsters. At the same time, it is a tale of the love between Joey and Carole Reedy, a local Irish girl who ended up making it.
This is a huge novel as full of wise guys in suits, drinking in low dives, gambling, characters, money, sex, murder, family and The Family as any Mob aficionado could want. The story nominally involves the narrator Vince putting together and retelling the life of his brother sometime after his murder at the hands of the Mob. As urban renewal takes over the neighborhood, the power of the Mob also wanes. The old dives and gambling halls are replaced with cheap projects, driving out the Italian families. When Joey realizes that money, not the loyalty that the Mob preaches, is also driving the loss of the old neighborhood, he comes up with an audacious plan… he’ll kidnap the Mob and hold them ransom. This proves to be easier and more lucrative then he and his conspirators could believe. But, like the aging lions in the zoo that Joey likes to go watch, the Mob still has teeth.
Told in the style of a memoir, you get the idea that this happened in the author’s youth, and a few dates tie it into sometime in the late fifties. Not all events are told in chronological order, and you get intimate details and the personal thoughts of characters, told in first-person. While there are a few details that mention time, there is a timeless aspect to the story that could take place anywhere from the 40s all the way to the 70s. A memoir meets historical fiction meets mythology.
Adrift in time, it is not so with place. This book oozes atmosphere and detail that puts you right in the streets of East Harlem. You are left almost feeling like you could find your way to The Pioneer, or the club the boys lived above. Right down 105th was Armondo’s place, a diner that was also the front of the local kingpin. Cross Second Avenue and you’d come to Barney’s Bar and Pizzeria, the jukebox pouring Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey out into the street. You can almost smell the dirt on the streets, the stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer, and spicy marinara.
Overall, the memoir-style of the novel is the weakest feature. The main character is clearly Joey, and Vince, our supposed narrator, is barely present in most of the book. This is Joey’s story, and a little bit of window dressing making it look like Vince putting together his brother’s story doesn’t add to, or enhance, the story. There is a wonderful love and gangster’s story hidden in this novel, but you’d need to get rid of some of the extra first.
|Page Publishing, Inc
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|Mystery, Crime, Thriller