"Bones of Brooklyn" (Permanent Press), by Ira Gold
Howard Fenster, son of a bookkeeper for the Mafia, has been "in the life" since he was 10. But now, he and his girlfriend, Ariel, have fled, hoping to escape the Italian, Russian and Asian gangs fighting over what's left of non-gentrified Brooklyn.
They had dreamed of faraway places, but they make it only a subway ride away to Greenwich Village before becoming paralyzed by "inertia" and post-traumatic stress from the bloodshed of "Debasements of Brooklyn," the first novel in Ira Gold's noir series.
Near the opening of "Bones of Brooklyn," Fenster's old boss, Pauli Bones, tracks him down and orders him back. Some people need killing, and Pauli's depleted gang requires reinforcements.
Fenster wonders if one of those who needs killing is himself. After all, his attempt to disappear put his loyalty into question. Worse, it's no secret that he reads, a bizarre habit that makes him suspect in his violent world.
Fenster's fellow mobsters would be even more suspicious if they knew that he longs for a life of the mind, his thoughts swimming with the wisdom and folly of the classics from Orwell to Proust.
Nevertheless, over Ariel's initial objections, Fenster returns to Brooklyn. There, he discovers that Pauli isn't the only one who wants something from him. Rose Spoleto, widow of a mobster Fenster killed in the first novel, wants a favor. So does Alexandra Rachmaninoff, the wife of a Russian hoodlum. To name a few.
The result is a yarn thick with tension, violence, profanity, kinky sex and triple crosses that have Fenster, and the reader, continually wondering who is on whose side and where the next bullet will come from.
Fenster gradually discovers that he is much better at scheming and killing than he ever realized. This alternately energizes and depresses him, but it excites Ariel.
"Eighty-five percent of life may be showing up, while a mere 15 percent consists of an ability to pull a trigger," Fenster muses. "If my lifelong ambivalence gets ripped away, what remains? It's my questioning of the value of doing anything that provides all the meaning of my life."
Gold tells his fast-paced tale in a tight, quirky style that is rich with irony, black humor, colorful settings and memorable characters.