SWEETHEART by Andrew Coburn


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Here, Coburn (The Babysitter, Off Duty) writes an unusually intelligent Feds vs. Mafia novel in which revelations of emotion and character are as absorbing as the smoothly handled twistings of the revenge-laden plot. An elderly couple, the Gardellas, are murdered in their western Massachusetts home by two local toughs. The victims are the parents of Anthony Gardella, a major Boston Mafia don, and his sister Rita, both of whom burn to avenge their parents' murder. Boston FBI chief Russell Thurston--obsessive, ambitious, slightly sadistic--sees a chance to pierce Gardella's organization and contacts Lieutenant Christopher Wade, whom Thurston wants to insinuate into Gardella's confidence. Wade, estranged from his wife and mired in mid-career, reluctantly takes up Thurston's deal. He gives Gardella's man access to the one murder witness, and shortly thereafter the killers are rubbed out. Gardella meets Wade, expresses his appreciation and offers to help him personally and professionally. Transferred to Boston and working for Thurston undercover to bring down Gardella, Wade finds himself torn between his duty to Thurston and his attraction to the gangster, whom we see as a violently contradictory man: at the same time that he tries to bring Wade and his wife back together--in a kind and genuine way--he brutally murders his double-dealing cousin in Miami. The plot turns as Wade discovers that Gardella's wife has been an informer for Thurston since before her marriage to Anthony; and Wade finds himself falling in love with her. The FBI net starts to close tightly around Gardella as Thurston puts the screw to several key Gardella operatives, and Gardella starts his own investigation of Thurston, through which he discovers the true allegiances of Wade and--most painful--of his wife. A novel strongly tinged with melancholy, set in a sordid world where the good guys often appear as venal as the bad, and in which every character suffers more than he triumphs. Coburn takes the risk of making the Mafia lord sympathetic and the FBI-man Thurston repellent, but he succeeds surprisingly well, vividly contrasting Gardella's warm suburban home life with his brutal criminal world, and giving us characters who are alive, unpredictable and emotionally complex. Altogether, a skillfully crafted entry in an oft-tired genre.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan