In Wilkinson (co-author: The Will Changer: Unholy Trinity, 2017, etc.) and debut author Cusumano’s thriller, an aspiring competitive fighter struggles to free himself from his family’s mob-tied business while also dodging a serial killer.
Chicagoan Jimmy Malchiovelli, 25, wants to become the greatest Brazilian-jujitsu fighter in history. But his father, Maurice, wants his son to go to law school so he can take over the family business. Jimmy is reluctant, primarily because that business, M&M Accounting, secretly launders money for “the Outfit,” a notorious criminal organization. He’s also feeling pressure from his girlfriend, Rachel Goldberg, who wants a husband with a stable career. One night, while at a snazzy new nightclub, Jimmy and Rachel catch the eye of serial murderer Rich Branton, who’s desperately hunting new victims for fear that he’s lost his homicidal “mojo.” Rich, who runs Branton Construction, is resisting making a deal with the Outfit, which threatens that organization’s multibillion-dollar operation. So thugs pay Rich a visit, which only succeeds in agitating him further. He plans to use Jimmy’s link to the Outfit as a way to enact bloody retribution, which forces the young fighter to protect his family. This is an engrossing crime story, overall. Rich is a particularly absorbing character, although he’s no more frightening than his gangster enemies, who garner no sympathy as his potential victims. The straightforward prose helps to maintain a swift pace as Jimmy, who’s already suffered the loss of his mother to cancer and the disappearance of his sister Laurie, faces a host of new obstacles. Other characters further beef up the intrigue: federal agent Kate Michaels, for example, may be working with or against Outfit underboss Vincent “Crazy Vinnie” Salvano (while hiding a personal vendetta); meanwhile, members of a Miami cartel head to Chicago to negotiate a new treaty with the Outfit. The ending offers a clear setup for a potential sequel.
A dark, tense tale befitting the seedy characters who populate it.