Author Ross returns to 1940s New York (Tales from the Sidewalks of New York, 2012, etc.) with a comedy about Mafioso types and a rather muddled attempt to whack someone.
At the Mermaid Social Athletic Club, mob boss Dwarf and his men meet for their poker games. It’s also where Sonny LoCicero and company must contend with the likes of Louie the Louse, who earned his nickname by claiming some of the Dwarf’s business under the guise of an employee. The Dwarf has a reason for permitting Louie’s misdeeds, but on learning he’s been duped, he wants retaliation—and what better way than to enlist the loathsome Fivel Finnegan, who’s always up for an easy way to make money? One of the most salient traits of Ross’ novel is the narrator, Sonny. Sonny rarely plays an active role in the story, sometimes relaying events secondhand, a funny narrative strategy. His phonetic narration makes all the characters’ dialogue sound the same, using words like “yerself” and disregarding the final letter of -ing words; he admits to conjecture, such as guessing the weather conditions during an encounter between Fivel and Louie on Coney Island; and he’s disposed to going off on tangents but gets himself back on track with an “anyhow.” Sonny reveals little about himself, including any personality, but he’s surrounded by a motley bunch of uproarious characters—Minnie, who sells two-day-old newspapers and whose cataracts require her taxicab passengers to feed her directions; Fats Suozzo, who thinks the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was the holiday’s namesake; and Joey the Clown, who debates inviting his current wife to his wedding. Ross gives many characters recognizable qualities: The Dwarf towers over everyone; Louie always wears a red plaid vest; and Fivel has a refrain of “Five’ll getcha ten” for his unending challenges. A few jokes are predictable—a dog named Spot, a woman telling a roomful of men that she’s a thespian—but they’re eclipsed by the other funny stuff.
Just like a witty friend telling a story; quirky, good-natured and never boring.