Falco (The Family Corleone, 2012, etc.) dissects a New York City gangland war over Prohibition speak-easies and rumrunning.
In 1931, the Mafia didn't rule Big Apple crime. The illegal booze trade was controlled by a loose confederation called the Combine, made up of a variety of Irish mobsters and the tightfisted, ever angry Dutch Schultz's gang. Falco's plot is anchored by historical gangland figures such as Schultz and Vince Coll—the "Mad Dog" of legend—but it's Coll's fictional friend Loretto Jones who provides perspective. Coll was a soldier in Schultz's gang, which led to his brother’s death; in retribution, he wants to destroy the Combine, led by Owen Madden, another historical figure neatly fitted into the narrative. Coll’s first shot is the attempted assassination of a hot-tempered subcapo. His fusillade kills a child; politicos grab headlines offering big rewards; and the Combine wants blood. With Loretto nearby, witnessing the shooting, the police and the Combine think he was involved. The action moves from the mean streets of the Bronx to basement speak-easies and the fabled Cotton Club, showing Falco's grip on environments from cold-water tenements to greasy spoons. Mad Dog is the most striking character here, a charismatic psychopath. Loretto’s loyal to him, but he’s also tied to the Baronti family, which gives him refuge after he witnesses the shooting; he's also in love with Gina, their beautiful daughter. Loretto grows into a somewhat sympathetic protagonist, considering the mean streets of his youth, through outside influences and introspection. Coll is one-note, his only positive quality a twisted sense of loyal. Madden, Schultz, Luciano and the rest of the historical gang are straight out of newspaper columns yet subtly nuanced. There’s gunplay for action fans, some R-rated gore and PG-sex.
Falco’s style tends toward reportorial, which gives the book a texture different from classic noir yet provides an intriguing read for crime-fiction fans.