BILLY PHELAN'S GREATEST GAME by William Kennedy

BILLY PHELAN'S GREATEST GAME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The ambience is 1938 Albany, New York, among an ""action-easy, gravy-vested sporting mob"" of small fish--bookies, bootleggers, pimps, bartenders. And larger fish too: the McCalls, the prelates of Albany's Democratic machine under whose sanction and careful eye the anchovies swim. When son Charlie McCall is kidnapped, two go-betweens are sent crab-wise and with utmost street-smarts to find out what they can: Martin Daugherty, a local newspaper columnist, the son of a famous local writer; and Billy Phelan, bookie, bowling hustler, and no less strictly observant of a code of honor than an Arthurian knight. Through Daugherty's eyes, we watch Billy lose in this game he can't win--either he informs on his pals or else he's cut out of the action forever by the McCalls. Kennedy (The Ink Truck, Legs) gets the feel and the sounds down perfectly (""Who died and left you so smart?"")--his Irishmen are fully as good as George Higgins' or John Gregory Dunne's. But the steeping affection and knowledge he has for the scene wets the book down too much; we know too early who will do what, and Kennedy often seems more interested with gilt-blarney (""When time descends, ego forfends"") and a too forcibly imposed father/son dialectic. But within its indulged perimeters, Kennedy's version of Depression Albany is made as real as your hand.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1978
ISBN: 0140063404
Publisher: Viking