In Machado’s debut novel, a pair of unusual creatures has a profound effect on people’s lives during the speak-easy era.
In the first book in the author’s Who Guards the Angels? series, the town of Good Leaf Metro has embraced a ban on alcohol with enthusiasm. Rife with crooked cops, rumrunners, sleazy lawyers and outright gangsters, Good Leaf is the very definition of corrupt. Pazo “Pap” Fanti, a good guy hiding from the mob, runs a speak-easy that switches locations whenever his pursuers get a bead on him. His star attraction is Buster, a horn-playing creature resembling a bear that blows the sweetest notes this side of heaven, and he draws big crowds. One day, Pap finds Mr. Crooner, an apparent chimp who sings like an angel. With the bad guys closing in, Fanti desperately tries to save himself, Buster and Mr. Crooner before they all get killed. Meanwhile, other people, including his own family, seem intent on betraying him. This book’s beginning is a blizzard of character names and Prohibition-era slang, and it’s almost incomprehensible without a speak-easy dictionary to decipher such phrases as “Maybe I’m beaking for a worm.” However, just in time, Machado ditches such language, and the novel takes off. It’s at its best when it eschews its gangster element altogether in favor of quieter stories, such as the dissolution of the marriage of supporting characters Chase and Vilma or the estranged relationship of Pap and his brother, Met. However, what carries the book is the underlying question of who—or what—Buster and Mr. Crooner are: Are they humans, animals or something else entirely? Questions abound regarding these two musical geniuses, and they carry the book to its conclusion. Although the book is bit too long, it will keep readers intrigued and have them guessing until the end.
An often engaging story of unusual creatures that sometimes soars an octave above the ordinary.