A wild ride back to south Florida in the mid-1950s, when reporters were boozy, women were floozies, cops were for sale and stone killers managed somehow to be colorful.
On Monday, April 15, 1955, person or persons unknown severely punished Charlie Wall, king of the bootleggers in his time, with a baseball bat and then slit his throat—a homicide never solved. This is the pivotal, real-life episode Atkins uses to spin his tale of murder, betrayal and revenge in tempestuous Tampa, a city once dubbed “Little Chicago.” Mob hits then were as integral to the scene as senior-citizen ex-pats are now. So who rubbed the old man out? Was it Santo Trafficante, operations boss of that busy crime triangulation—Sicily to Tampa to Havana—who might have arranged the deed simply because he could? Or how about Johnny Rivera, a hood's hood, sullen, reptilian, unburdened by anything resembling a conscience. Had he become convinced that the old man had grown loose-lipped with age? Detective Ed Dodge, the anomalous cop without a price tag, likes Johnny for it. But then he likes Johnny for just about anything that is vicious, cold-blooded and fatal. On the periphery as the drama unfolds, a kind of Greek chorus, are the reporters: 26-year old J.B. Turner, serving Atkins as alter ego and narrator; and smart, beautiful, endlessly enigmatic Eleanor Charles, chief among them—sniffing at the action, ever alert for byline material, seemingly safe behind the shield of their notebooks. Until suddenly they aren't.
Atkins (Dirty South, 2004, etc.) mutes his Nick Travers series, benching the blues-loving ex-footballer, for something much more ambitious. This is a big-time crime novel crammed with violence, sex and some pretty good writing makes it hard to put down.