PAYBACK by Thomas Kelly


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 A powerful and assured first novel that is both a hard-edged noirish crime drama and a startling exploration of the complex ties of family and place. Paddy Adare, a former boxer, is a blithe enforcer for Jack Tierney's Irish mob headquartered in Manhattan's unforgiving Hell's Kitchen. It's the 1980s, and New York is enjoying a construction boom: Jack, Paddy, and their associates make a good living shaking down builders and manipulating unions. This new venture does not, of course, stop Jack from pursuing (in a bloody, sometimes inept manner) such enterprises as drug dealing and murder for hire. Billy, Paddy's younger brother, has by contrast managed to pull himself out of Hell's Kitchen, ignoring the appeal of the violent life: He has worked his way through college and has been accepted to law school. As the novel opens, he's putting in one last summer as a sandhog on Water Tunnel Number Three, the excavation of an immense tunnel eight hundred feet below ground, designed to bring water to New York City. The Adare patriarch died in an accident in the tunnel years before, and Billy views his time there as a way of reaffirming his roots and his family identity. The brother's paths cross when the repellent new contractor in charge of the project (a fanatic Reaganite) decides to break the sandhogs' union to lower his costs, calling on the services of the Mafia. The Mafia in turn subcontracts the work out to Tierney's mob, and Paddy is suddenly caught between family and business. An escalating series of betrayals and murders leads to a gripping showdown between Billy, Paddy, and a maddened Jack in an unfinished skyscraper. Kelly's criminals are vivid and convincing, as memorable as Elmore Leonard's or George Higgins's killers and hustlers. More importantly, his portrait of the last vestiges of Irish blue-collar life in New York is detailed and authoritative. A fresh, distinctive debut. (First printing of 75,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45051-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997


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