by Dennis M. Day
Historical mystery/ Crime Thriller
If you are from Chicago or know really well your American history, you cannot not associate the name of the city with Al Capone and his Outfit, as was the local mafia group called.
And if you want to know more about its (un)doings and workings, I highly recommend Stone Killer.
I recently reconnected through Zoom with an old friend. When she told me her husband had written a thriller on the outfit, I didn’t hesitate.
This is a self-published book, and for sure, a few things would need editing, for instance in the structure of the book. In chapter 7, we discover that the book seems to be the account of a former mafia member who is now in prison and has accepted to tell some of his stories to a ghost writer. This chapter and a few others in this prisoner’s voice are written in the first person. I like the difference of style between these chapters, with a lot of mafia lingo (at least it sounds like it), and the others in third person narration. I think it might have worked better though to have this prisoner speak a bit earlier in the book, instead of waiting for page 42.
Another weak point is the large number of characters. It’s definitely helpful to have three pages of historical characters at the beginning of the book, to remember who’s who, but on top of that, there are also a lot of fictional characters.
However, I must admit that it was really neat to cross so many infamous famous characters (Al Capone and Tony of course, but many more), and follow them in their favorite spots in Chicago and elsewhere.
Enough with the weak points, as the book is actually excellent at other levels., including the cool cover!
The plot highlights nicely the vicious circle in this milieu, where one killing leads to another. The official synopsis (I took out elements which I think best not to reveal) gives a good idea of what’s going on:
It’s 1931 and Mike Peeters, a hitman for the mob, has a contract to murder Al Capone’s traitorous accountant and a talkative stoolie. When a young couple witness the crime, Mike coerces them into becoming his protégés. As Mike prepares for his next contract, he introduces Gus and Hannah to the seamy underworld of the mob. But someone is on to his plans. As Mike eludes attempts on his own life, Gus and Hannah are drawn deeper and deeper into a dangerous world of snitches, dirty cops, labor rackets, and vicious warfare between mobster gangs.
I already mentioned the lingo used by the prisoner.
Along the same line, there are great lines of dialogs, with the type of vocabulary and syntax I can easily associate with the mafia.
Besides, Dennis Day has done a fantastic job at recreating the ambiance at several levels. The book is set in Chicago, in Wisconsin, and in Iowa (Dubuque and East Dubuque – two very different places). Having experienced myself the hot and muggy Iowa summers, I thought Day’s descriptions of them were totally on target.
I also appreciated the descriptions of the urban landscape, for instance of run down areas of Dubuque, and scenes at the packing plant. Here is an illustration:
And alongside the weather, you can feel the heaviness and oppressiveness between members of the mafia. Things get even more complicated when Maranzano (the New York mafia leader who wanted to be the boss of all bosses) comes on the scene. So, who is killing whom, why, and who ordered it? These are questions that will be in the back of your mind all along.
And of course, it’s also the time of Prohibition, another occasion to show that the bad guys were not always the ones behind bars. It’s no big spoiler I am sure to say that you may wonder all along the book which cop is really on the side he pretends to be.
As I read along, I was getting more and more nervous at how things were going to turn out, but I actually found the ending satisfying –but that may depend on your perspective!
VERDICT: The Chicago mafia in all its grimy nitty-gritty. Very evocative.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
What’s your favorite novel on the mafia?
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