Manhattan chef-turned-fiction-writer Bourdain pens a first novel about murder and the Mob that makes a fair appetizer but no main course. Tommy is the second chef at the Dreadnaught Grill. His father was a made-guy with the Mob, but Tommy has managed to keep clear of any ``family'' entanglements. Harvey, who owns the Dreadnaught, owes big money to Tommy's uncle, a hit man named Sally who's also a loan shark. Harvey is weeks behind on his interest payments, with Sally applying lots of muscle. What Sally doesn't know, however, is that the Dreadnaught is a federal sting operation designed to snare racketeers like him. Sally approaches Tommy for a ``favor'': He wants to use the restaurant as a meeting place. Tommy eventually agrees, only to watch Sally and a friend murder and then dismember a man. Now Tommy is in way deep, and just in time for the feds to take a serious interest in him. They want his testimony on the murder, but Tommy can't narc on a relative—especially one who's a homicidal animal. Pressured by both sides, he also feels guilty over the murder. All of this could be compelling enough—if the book wasn't a catalogue of first-novel mistakes. The dialogue is usually flabby (``I wanna follow him,'' says a detective watching the Dreadnaught. ``Maybe he's runnin' an errand,'' says his partner. ``Maybe he is. Maybe he's runnin' an errand for Uncle Sally.'' ``Maybe he's runnin' out for a head of lettuce''); and, meanwhile, the plot gets sidetracked into very secondary concerns, like the head chef's struggle with heroin and entrance into a methadone program. Worst of all, though, the ending is a big disappointment: too easy, and totally anticlimactic. Great descriptions of food. But despite some very graphic violence, not as sharp, hard, or mean as the genre demands.
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