07 June 2009

Casino Moon

Peter Blauner's 1994 novel Casino Moon was Hard Case Crime's May 2009 selection. It is the story of a fading, failing family. Atlantic City once was the Mob's town, but with la Cosa Nostra increasingly on the outside, the Russo family is finding it hard to make ends meet. Young Anthony dreams of the big payoff, a legit payoff, to finally get out from under the shadow of his stepfather Vin, an enforcer in Teddy Marino's organization. To make matters worse, Anthony is married to Marino's niece, and indebted to him financially as well. Teddy and Vin assume that Anthony will see the light and join the family's enterprises, but Anthony stubbornly wants to make it on his own. He goes off on a convoluted scheme to promote a championship fight, which ultimately Teddy views as the act of a traitor. Throw in a once-crooked but now honorable cop, a tough-as-nails femme who falls for our boy, a sleazy media mogul, a washed-up but wise prizefighter, and a few assorted thugs and you have a complex and satisfying novel. I'm not much for Mafia stories--I saw The Godfather in the 8th grade, fer chrissakes, and those films were the apotheosis of the genre. I like my crime to be local, and not necessarily professional. But that's a quibble, the story alternated between first-person (Anthony) and third person, which made it long (333 pages) compared to most of the HCC line. Unfortunately, Anthony wasn't terribly likeable or interesting, even though his plight was. Trapped by his past, something he had no control over, made him hungry and desperate, and his fall is all too predictable. The story is really about that--how an environment can poison its inhabitants, and turn every choice they make into something else entirely. Everyone is looking for an edge and watching their back because that's the dog-eat-dog world they live in. Escape is your only chance at redemption. A noir landscape, to be sure.

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