APALACHIN by Jack Kelly


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Mafia infighting in upstate New York. circa 1957--in an unfocused first novel that takes much too long to rev up steam as a revenge-melodrama. For about 100 pages here Kelly introduces an over-large cast of characters without developing strong interest in any of them. The most important players: local mob chieftain and brothel-owner Manny Petrone, a crass bully with a youngish. frustrated, alcoholic wile; aging mob enforcer George Lombardosi, who's going crazy (thanks to advanced syphilis) and infuriating Manny with his erratic performance; and young petty-crook Link, sometime car-thief and race-car driver, who's been having a long-term passionate affair with Sherry Ryan, George's beautiful, married niece. About halfway through the novel, then, some of the pieces begin to come together--when Manny, fed up with George's waywardness, has the old man fatally ambushed. Also killed (unintentionally) in the attack, however, is Sherry's little daughter Diane. So Sherry vows vengeance, joined by lover Link when she reveals that he (not her bland husband Dave) is the dead Diane's real father. And helping Link in his two attempts to assassinate Manny will be several people with grudges against the Mafia kingpin--including wife Phyllis (who lusts after Link) and ambitious mob lieutenant Carlo (who was George's best pal). First-novelist Kelly is not without talent: the low-life dialogue bristles nicely, the lean action scenes have punch, and a few sequences--e.g., hit-man George's genteel domestic life--are nicely edged with irony. But the disjointed narrative, indiscriminately lavishing detail on minor characters and irrelevant subplots, fails to generate momentum; Link, never especially sympathetic, is a hero-manquÉ at best. And, with only faint period flavor, this remains a modestly promising, fatally diffuse debut--too shallow for serious involvement, too uncoordinated for suspenseful impact.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1987
Publisher: Dutton