“She named me after a housekeeper? Why? / Same reason she threw hard-boiled eggs at her poodle.”
If that sublimely loony exchange appeals to you, you’re going to like this seventh installment in Kennedy’s ongoing Albany Cycle (whose crown jewel is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Ironweed, 1983). The quotation refers to an embittered matron who’s suing for custody of the illegitimate son she gave away when he was an infant. This situation seems quite reasonable in a busy anecdotal melodrama that’s set in and around Albany in 1945, and features political infighting, murder for profit, corrupt cops and officeholders, convivial prostitutes, and the occasional ghost. Better still, it features adipose and sentimental Roscoe Conway, wounded WWI vet (a “heroic deserter”), number-two man in his city’s Democratic Party hierarchy, and longtime admirer of gorgeous Veronica Fitzgibbon, whose husband (and Roscoe’s boyhood pal) Elisha kills himself to avert a family scandal (or so it seems). Through the many ensuing ramifications, Kennedy sticks close to Roscoe’s boozy street-smart consciousness, as meetings with old friends and enemies (who are sometimes the same people) are juxtaposed with brief fantasy sequences and staggered flashbacks that reach as far back as the old pol’s boyhood days of breeding “fighting chickens” and doing favors for gentlemanly mobsters. “Legs” Diamond, FDR, and New York governor Al Smith drop in briefly, sharing the spotlight with such engaging fictional creations as thuggish powerbroker Patsy McCall, “peephole columnist” Roy Flinn, and sagacious whoremistress Hattie Wilson. Kennedy’s hit-and-run narrative precludes anything really resembling a plot (structure isn’t his strong point), but Roscoe dishes the dirt with agreeable energy, and it’s crammed with one-liners that the late George V. Higgins would, as they say, have killed for (e.g., “ . . . lies are my business, and without avarice we’d have chaos in City Hall”).
Hardly a work of art, then, but a fine, feisty addition to the impudent and entertaining Albany Cycle.