In many ways, Angela Matelli (Deadbeat, 1999, etc.) is a standard-issue hard-boiled heroine. An ex-marine and ex-cop, she scratches out a living as a p.i. in a scuzzy office in East Boston with no more regard for authority than V.I. or Kinsey. Unlike these two orphans, though, Angela’s a family girl, the apple of her doting mother’s eye as well as the object of her constant and often misplaced concern. So when her youngest brother Albert drops off the radar screen and she’s forced by an overzealous security guard named Biff to break into Albert’s condo, who plays lookout but Ma? And when Angela finds inside the condo not her brother but a very dead stranger, who else but Ma can arrange an audience with Albert’s boss, Don Testa—Ma’s high-school sweetheart who’s now patriarch of the Rhode Island Mob? But Don Testa has family issues of his own, with a stable full of thugs like Johnny Smash and Nick the Knife to ride herd on. As the Testas’ and Matellis’ interests collide, two ever-widening circles of in-laws and outlaws converge on a single common point: the absent Albert. The resulting clash of family vs. Family has more heart, but also more fluff, than the typical femme-boiled. After all, why give Angela a boyfriend (to whom she seems only marginally attached) who has no connection to the plot?
Still, the central mystery is lean and mean, and Angela’s a toughie who’s worth as many allowances as your own family.