Yet another of those tedious underworld novels in which Godfathers and Galahads tend to overlap, this time in early 20th-century New York.
After a long and sanguinary run, boss Angelo Vestieri lies dying, while a young man we know only as Gabe keeps a loving vigil by his bedside. Gabe venerates Angelo as a man of honor, and it’s through him that much of Vestieri’s story is told. True, Gabe acknowledges, for most of his life Angelo has been something of a killing machine, but there’s an upside. That would be “the code.” Angelo’s unswerving commitment to its rigid, demanding precepts is, in Gabe’s view, downright chivalric. Granted, Angelo is a gangster, has always been a gangster, enjoys being a gangster, has grown rich being a gangster—nevertheless, Gabe insists, he is a principled gangster. From the time he began running numbers at age ten for racketeer kingpin Angus McQueen, Angelo has believed that the code would redeem him, that if he adhered to it his behavior (no matter how murderous) would be estimable in his peers’ eyes and self-affirming in his own. Gabe agrees. Moreover, he owes a great deal to Angelo, who took him off the streets and gave him all he knows of home and family. Angelo’s heart’s desire is to have Gabe follow in his footsteps and be the kind of model career criminal the code was invented to justify. So Angelo trains Gabe, preparing the definitive gangster’s curriculum for him to study. The question that preoccupies them both—and the author—is: Will Gabe ever be able to kill people with the brio required?
Carcaterra (Sleepers, 1995) knows how to keep a story moving, but by now it’s such a tired story that those romanticized Mafiosi can no longer make their bones.