Berkin’s (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) second Wagstaff adventure pits his protagonist against the Rhode Island mob.
En route to a reunion at Brown University, Wagstaff stops in Las Vegas, where he thwarts a carjacking and saves Alfie Palumbo’s life. Alfie is the son of a Mafia chief from Rhode Island, but he’s no hoodlum; he’s an upstanding art historian who happens to have a disreputable dad. Nor is Wagstaff an ordinary good Samaritan; he freelances as an investigator for a mysterious, “off-the-books” intelligence agency. Key to his success is his faith in “Jungian synchronicities”; in other words, he doesn’t believe in coincidence. Instead, he filters occurrences through his encyclopedic knowledge of film. For example, if something reminds him of a movie, he overlays that film’s plot on what’s actually taking place—then his brain fizzes into action, making unusual connections. When he realizes that Alfie is one of the same Palumbos who ran his own hometown, he decides to find out who’s behind the attempted murder. The Palumbo family is thrilled by this, and they provide him with a bodyguard and other assistance—but can they be trusted? Central to the mystery are a lost Caravaggio painting that Alfie uncovered in an Italian monastery and an art heist from the 1980s. But when a local man winds up dead in a dumpster, Wagstaff worries that he could be next. High-spirited, high-stakes mayhem fills every page; there are nonstop scrapes and chases, wise-guy jokes, and references to everything from The Gong Show to Star Trek, The Godfather, and even the 1990 film The Freshman. Berkin’s story is preposterous and his leading man improbable—but the novel’s endearing goofiness makes this a winning combination. Film buffs will love spotting the various movie references (and Wagstaff’s disquisition on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window), while action fans will find plenty here to raise their heart rates. Readers shouldn’t read this book while hungry, though, as Wagstaff’s most intense nostalgia is for Rhode Island cuisine—all described in detail that will leave readers drooling.
Wacky, worldly Wagstaff is a winner.