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A Borscht Belt version of The Bonfire of the Vanities, in which Roiphe (Married, 2002, etc.) follows the travails of a New York mayor whose city is coming apart at the seams.

Nobody expected much of Mel Rosenberg. They never expected him to become the mayor of New York in the first place, and after he pulls off the election, they don’t really know what he’s planning to do. Mel concentrates at first on the city’s schools, but the shadow of terrorism is soon cast when a string of inexplicable deaths take place. Mel’s daughter Ina, a biologist at the Department of Health, discovers that the deaths are the result of pizza that’s been laced with large quantities of psychotropic drugs (of the sort typically given to lunatics at outpatient clinics). The poison is later traced to Starbucks, and it soon becomes clear that a well-coordinated effort is at play. The mayor enlists the aid of Detective Loew, a cop descended from the legendary Rabbi Loew of Prague, to find out who’s responsible. But, New York being New York, there’s no way the investigation can proceed without political distractions. The Reverend Benjy Crick, a Harlem demagogue, spreads rumors that a (nonexistent) vaccine is being hoarded by Jews and administered in the basements of synagogues. And the mayor’s close friend (and Parking Commissioner) Neil Maguire is soon embroiled in a scandal regarding embezzled funds. (Maguire also has an insane son named Kevin who receives psychotropic drugs as an outpatient.) And there are smaller crises, as well, involving Mel’s social-climbing son Jacob (who wants to get his kids into a tony private school) and Ina (whose Russian brother-in-law Leonid turns out to have some shady connections). New York is ungovernable at the best of times—but now it looks as if it’ll become uninhabitable as well. Can Mel save the city?

Very much an insider’s story: a fictionalized rehash of Gotham gossip that most New Yorkers have tired of—and few out-of-towners will get.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-4945-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2003


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