In Graziano’s (Die Laughing, 2009) thriller, two brothers who severed their mob ties years ago return to their Manhattan home and become embroiled in the gangster life once again.
Thirty years ago, Tommy Rossini was an enforcer for wiseguy Pauly Fazzula. But when the stress of the job literally gave Tommy a heart attack, Pauly approved his “medical leave” from the Mafia. Tommy becomes a successful businessman in Arizona until he loses everything as one of the many victims of fraudster Bernie Madoff. Meanwhile, his older brother, Jake, married Pauly’s daughter, Bernadette, but later, he gave up all of this mob-associated wealth when he decided to divorce her. He then left New York City and had a string of failed business ventures. Now Jake and Tommy have no choice but to go home to their Parkinson’s disease–ridden mother, Maddie, and her caregiver, Dory. Tommy reluctantly starts working for Pauly again to earn some money, but Jake smartly stays hidden away from the mob boss. Around the same time, Detective Santo Olivetti of the New York City Police Department is investigating the murder of Monsignor Matthew Burns of the Church of the Most Precious Blood. He’s already connected Burns to organized-crime families, and he also has a witness—a priest named Bryce Gleason who may have seen the killer. Soon the priest’s life intersects with Tommy’s, and someone is destined to wind up dead. The Rossinis, with help from their youngest brother, Looney (who never left New York), must devise a plan for dealing with Pauly.
Despite a plot that revolves around the mob, Graziano’s tale is surprisingly lighthearted. Violence is mostly implied, and the narrative is largely free of profanity—at least, compared to other gangland novels. This doesn’t diminish the impact of Pauly as a villain, however. His power is without question, and it’s clear that anyone who crosses him will likely die. That said, the author imbues the story with humor, particularly in scenes with the Rossini family. One highlight is Maddie; for instance, when Tommy is upset that Jake would have sex with a woman under their mother’s roof, Jake reminds him that she can’t hear anything. “Right,” Maddie agrees, a good distance away. “I can’t hear anything.” On the romance front, Tommy reconnects with Maria Forzano, a woman whom he left behind when he escaped the mob. Their relationship is convincing as they struggle with burdens—namely, that Pauly seems to have targeted her family-owned shop. Graziano’s no-frills prose provides the plot with a steady tempo. But it also offers lingering moments, as when Tommy walks through his old neighborhood: “On the sidewalks, white-apron-clad vendors hawked fruits and vegetables; and behind the windows of the same shops with sawdust-covered floors, old-fashioned butchers boned legs of veal and wielded scaloppine hammers.” The killer’s identity is apparent rather quickly. Nonetheless, the novel is fraught with tension, as the inevitable showdown with Fazzula could turn out any number of ways.
A Mafia tale with good characterization and well-placed comedy.