A struggling freelance artist in 1957 forms an unlikely relationship with a New York mobster in this quirky throwback to the ’50s crime novel.
Silva (The Patsey, 2012) begins his narrative with a bang—quite literally. Frank Caprizzi, former “Boss of the New York Underworld,” is shot (but not killed) in the lobby of the residential Royal Crest Hotel. After this grabber of an opening, readers meet protagonist Joe Marlin, a West Coast expatriate who has moved to New York City with his girlfriend, Gilda; he wants to establish himself as a career cartoonist, and she seeks to make her mark as an actress. They live in a $30-a-week Upper West Side hotel apartment, not far from where Caprizzi was shot. But Joe, a decent guy, soon finds himself pulled into a world of violence due to Gilda’s liaison with mob-connected producer Tony Richman. Gilda met Tony in postwar Germany, and now she hopes that he’ll be her ticket to stage and screen. What follows is betrayal, a few murders, and prolonged pub crawls that are almost Joe’s undoing. Ironically, Joe’s possible salvation arrives when he meets the recovering mobster Caprizzi, who loves the crime comics of the late 1940s and early ’50s. Silva apparently created Joe by drawing on aspects of his own biography: both were students at the LA–based Chouinard Art Institute, worked in Disney Studios’ animation department, and decided to try their luck as cartoonists in the Big Apple. The author draws upon this resume to deliver realistic descriptions of the mechanical details of Joe’s work, his weekly slogs trying to sell his cartoons, and his attempts at networking with other artists. With the eye of an artist and the heart of a romantic, Silva also takes readers on a nostalgic tour of 1957 New York, including visits to the jazz haunts and private artist parties of Greenwich Village in its heyday. Although the prose is neither elegant nor lyrical, it remains serviceable and adequately showcases the author’s bent for the dramatic. Joe’s alcoholic binges do become tiresome, but the book maintains a relatively quick pace, employing short chapters to propel the action forward.
An engaging romp that fuses love, art, and seedy, midcentury New York.