In Harris’ debut novel, a dutiful son wants to make an honest success of his father’s auto parts business—but the mob may still be pulling strings behind the scenes.
Thirty-something Larry Levine has worked at his dad Big Moe’s Public Auto Parts in New York City since he was in college. All of a sudden, Big Moe decides to retire to Florida, leaving Larry holding a mostly empty bag. His dad not only left with most of the company’s funds—he also left a lot of questions unanswered. For example, Larry wonders about the mob’s connection to Public Parts when a sinister gentleman named Carmine lets Larry know that he’s not his own man but an owned man. Moreover, Larry finds out about the supposedly accidental death of mobster Abe Reles 30 years before; the man fell to his death just as he was about to rat out several other criminals. Does that fact have something to do with why Moe decamped so hastily? What’s in the wind all these years later? Although Larry is desperate for answers, the old man is as cagey as ever. Then Larry meets Ann Riordan, with whom he falls instantly and hopelessly in love—even though he’s a semihappily married man. Despite the turmoil caused by their relationship, Ann is also, as Larry’s executive assistant, the best thing to ever happen to Public Parts. The climax of the book is Larry’s trial after he’s framed for arson, receiving stolen goods, and other crimes. How did he get into such a mess? Eventually, Big Moe—a widower whose health is failing fast—comes clean, to a degree, about what happened way back in 1941.
This is a very impressive debut, and although its nearly 600-page length may be daunting to some, it is, in fact, a brisk and straightforward read. The book doesn’t focus on a huge cast—just Larry, the narrator, trying to reform Public Parts while dealing with his feelings for Ann and hers for him. These are, for the most part, well-rounded characters, precisely because Harris takes his time to develop them. Ann is shown to be competent, enigmatic, and eerily perceptive; Big Moe could have easily been a one-note character, but his love and care for his only son show him to have some depth. Larry’s wife, Laurie, is a study in exasperation, but she’s also there when the chips are down. The dialogue is crackling and sly, and the long trial section, featuring the colorful Bernie “the Attorney” Schwartz, is priceless. The novel also offers an intriguing hybrid of real and fictional characters. Reles, Meyer Lansky, Lepke Buchalter, and others are actual mob figures, but their stories mesh well with those of invented characters, including the Levines; Ann; the perky Dawn Sanders, who helps Ann out around the office; and the vengeful Detective John Mannion. Indeed, by the end of the novel, readers will find that the made-up characters feel like living, breathing people, as well.
An entertaining literary work with realistic characters.