Life gets complicated for a con man with a conscience in a thrilling first novel that’s family drama with a strong suspense element.
Max Wolinsky is back in Philadelphia for his son Nathan’s bar mitzvah. It’s been a year since Max took off for Florida, after wife Sandy left him for the gardener. Max is staying with his father, Caleb, and his uncle Abe, a stroke victim. Both brothers used to be textiles salesmen, and Max, a college dropout, had joined them for a while before crossing the line into small scams; right now, he’s about to sell some nonexistent real estate to a prosperous Philly couple, the Goulds. Max has his rules: Don’t hurt anybody physically; don’t leave anyone destitute. Unfortunately, he knows people who are less scrupulous. Johnny Sklarman, a messed-up former college buddy, and his thuggish associate Dexter want a piece of the action. Then there’s Spiller, a businessman who’s also the scoutmaster at Nathan’s temple. Spiller has a big project cooking, evidently legit, and Johnny and Dexter are sniffing around that, too. Meanwhile, Max, a fast worker, has started dating an attractive local woman, Estelle. Schwarzschild keeps the story moving while deepening his family portrait. Family members protect each other with kindnesses large and small, forming a lifeline to the next generation. There’s the original Wolinsky, from Odessa, who battled thugs himself; there’s the brace of salesmen, Abe dreaming big, Caleb more “old school,” going by the book. Now Nathan, after his bar mitzvah, is a “responsible man” too, grilling his father in a scene so raw it hurts. For Max is at the center, tempted by easy money but willing to start over. His soul hangs in the balance through turns of plot and bare-knuckled violence, internal and external dramas both packing a wallop.
From a complicated business deal to a teenager’s first kiss, Schwarzschild works with the quiet authority of a master. This is one terrific debut.