Merullo’s third novel nicely combines the strengths of his first two: it’s as beautifully written as his first, Leaving Losapas (1991), and as smoothly plotted (and commercial) as his second, A Russian Requiem (1993). Although it’s about family, gambling, gangsters, sin, and redemption, Merullo’s smart book resists all the clichÇs of ethnic melodrama. Set in the blue-collar coastal town of Revere, Massachusetts, this study in secrets and lies in no way romanticizes either its working-class Italians or the goodfellas who prey upon their addictions. For Peter Imbesalacqua, a 40-year-old failing real-estate agent, that vice is gambling, which threatens to engulf his entire world, including his parents, Vito and Lucy, still living in the neighborhood, and his glamorous sister, Joannie, a Boston TV news anchor who’s bailed Peter out of too many jams. Told in the various voices of the main characters, the narrative also relies on the perspective of Father Dom, Vito’s boyhood friend and confessor to the Imbesalacqua family, and someone with a few secrets of his own. Peter’s debt to local wiseguy Eddie Crevine forces him to debase himself and lie to those around him. A dreamer with a true salesman’s personality, Peter is further haunted by a long-held family secret: the true relation of a childhood buddy, now the local police captain, who will do anything to protect the Imbesalacquas. Joannie, whose own secret everyone has long suspected, decides to practice tough love with her brother and also plans to expose Crevine in a series on local crime bosses. Merullo, with a tip of his hat to Dostoyevsky, probes the psyche of the gambler but avoids any neat explanations for —the animal of addiction.— The conflict of loyalties here(church, blood, class) also accounts for much inner turmoil among the primary characters, each drawn with sensitivity and intelligence. If Coppola or Scorsese ever repent for their glamorization of the underworld, this is the perfect novel to bring to the big screen: the ordinary people of Merullo’s realist fiction, no easy saints themselves, testify to the true meaning of familial love.