Monday, March 30, 2009

Charlie Stella: Shakedown

Until a few days ago I'd never read a Charlie Stella novel. I'd heard of him of course, hard not to when (as it turns out) he's this damned good.

For all the comparisons he gets to Elmore Leonard, the writer I thought of when I first started reading Shakedown was George V. Higgins and not just because of the idiomatic dialogue but because like Higgins--and early Leonard--the dialogue is layered in such a way that it's not just the usual mina bird tough guy stuff but talk that reveals character and milieu and history. That a good share of it happens to be hilarious makes it even better.

The story has one Bobby Gennaro, ambitious former bookmaker for the mob, trying to get away with a good share of the money he's been skimming. Eager to grab some of Bobby's money for themselves are a pair of wiseguys named Tommy Agro and John Forzino, Agro's deadliest weapon being his penchant for malaprops that deserve a quote book of their own. They are joined by a friend who is best known for a certain body part; a charmer of course. Bobby's fiance Lina Yao, an especially well detailed character, leads the secondary cast that is largely defined through Stella's masterful dialogue. And then Stella gives us a cunningly staged twist that makes Bobby's life much more difficult.

All this takes place a few days from he City's Feast of San Gennaro, an event that allows an old ethnic tradition to be contrasted with the changing colors, values and aspirations of the neighborhood. Agro's bursts of bigotry offer us a look at a wiseguy's op-ed piece on the new melting pot.

Stella is a major talent, a bone-crusher of a storyteller and a genuine street poet. A whole lot more people should be reading him.

5 comments:

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"Stella is a major talent, a bone-crusher of a storyteller and a genuine street poet. A whole lot more people should be reading him."

Definitely.

Dave Zeltserman said...

"Stella is a major talent, a bone-crusher of a storyteller and a genuine street poet. A whole lot more people should be reading him."

Yeah, but he's also a Bills fan, and from what I hear, will be wearing a TO jersey this season.

charlie stella said...

Way too kind fellas ... but they don't make TO jerseys in my size ... yet another form of prejudice against fat old man.

Today I try on my singlet for the powerlifting meet Sunday ... this could be a horror show of epic proportions.

Keith Rawson said...

Ed,

You should try Cheapskates and Jimmmy Bench press next. I re-read Jimmy Beanch Press over the weekend and even four years after reading it the first time it still has the exact same weight and power of the first read. The book contains probably one of the hardest scenes I've read in any crime novel ever. Plus, like all of Charlie's novels, it has some great dialogue.

And Charlie, you're gonna be a wearing some shorts over that singlet, right?

charlie stella said...

They don't allow shorts over the singlet but I sure wish they did. My wife intends to film the thing ... hopefully I won't embarrass myself and eat my call weight.