EMPRESS OF CONEY ISLAND by Robert B. Gillespie


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Despite a plethora of grisly corpses and a brigade of nonchalantly vile villains, the accent in this sprightly New York City thriller is on folksy charm and low-key comedy--as a trio of amateur detectives searches for a missing friend, escapes several brushes with violent death, and uncovers a murderous network of mobsterdom and political corruption. Spunky N.Y. journalist Opal Wilder has disappeared--to the mounting distress of her sort-of-fiancÉ Toby Ferris (a Mississippi columnist) and their friends Ralph and Lillian Simmons (Print-Out, 1983). So Toby, a Peck's Bad Good-Ol'-Boy of 47, leads Ralph (shrewd) and Lillian (fearlessly chatty) in a flurry of sleuthing sorties. They find a moldering corpse, a torture victim, in Opal's apartment; they learn that Opal's most recent collaborator--a lesbian accountant with Big Secrets to spill--has recently died in a supposed double-suicide (along with shady restaurateur Vito Sammartino). And it soon becomes clear that Opal is on the lam because she has evidence of a vast, foul seam that involves N.Y.'s first legal gambling casino (Coney Island's ""Empress""), several crooked contractors. . .and a gubernatorial candidate! There's very little mystery here; indeed, we watch the candidate's top hit-man in action from the very start--committing ghastly murders, nearly killing Toby (twice), and coolly plotting the demise of all the good guys. But there's lots of real danger and tension in the impetuous (not always plausible) derring-do--especially when Toby hijacks the Staten Island Ferry to Coney Island in order to avoid a bloodbath-ambush. And the hectic showdown at the casino features, along with the somewhat excessive mayhem (""Nine dead, three wounded""), one or two nice little surprises--as well as a saucily happy ending for valiant Toby and plucky Opal. In sum: an above-average mixture of whimsical capering with grimly credible suspense--and a much smoother fabrication than Gillespie's previous efforts.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Dodd, Mead