Another Mob book? Tricky fictional terrain, to be sure, but first-timer Kriegel pulls it off by setting his gangster mini-saga in a domesticated, minor key. The wiseguys here are a clutch of real dimwits. It's a testament to New York Daily News columnist Kriegel's ear that he nails so solidly their thick-skulled chatter. Former boxer Frank Battaglia is a perpetual number-two tough guy: He serves his boss, the Fatman, while encouraging cousin Philly Testa to sanction the hit that will crown Philly the new boss and install Frank as his lieutenant. Frank's position in the Family isn't the only thing on his mind. He has a moody teenaged son, Nicky, who's reeling from the suicide of his brother, Buddy. Add to that Frank's two-decade- old memory of his defeat in a career-making boxing bout, along with a New York criminal landscape changing too fast for the old-style mobsters to maintain their influence, and someone's bound to screw up. The Fatman goes down, but Frank leaves a witness, Samantha Broderick, an ex-punk diva and reformed junkie who was the Boss's newest companion. Frank has been forcing Nicky into boxing and away from basketball, where the boy's natural talents lie, and it's Nicky's struggle against his father's violent will that dominates much of the story. Nicky submits to the pugilistic training, but he's a joke in the ring. Yet he does have some wild nights in the sack with Samantha. Frank becomes a media darling, due largely to the Runyonesque dispatches of ink-stained wretch Mushy Flynn, until the Feds compel him to turn state's evidence and go into the witness protection program with his family. Sent ahead, Nicky escapes the safe house and returns to New York, where he and his father confront their common fears. The plot wanders off at the end and barely finds its way back; such a lapse, in an otherwise impressive debut, is easy to forgive.
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