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So, you’re a Chicago hit man…

GangsterlandGangsterland by Tod Goldberg

So, you’re a Chicago hit man and you have to shoot your way out of a situation that leaves multiple government employees dead. You think you’re going to be taken out by your boss because of this mess you made, and instead, he ships you to Las Vegas and a change of profession. As in…a rabbi.

Okay, when I put it like that…No, really, this is a lovely little book, and here speaks someone who swore off gangsters after she saw Goodfellas in 1990. Really done with criminal doofusi profiting off the weaknesses of ordinary doofusi and then shooting each other over their shares of the ordinary doofusi exploitation market. ‘Doofusi’ being my plural for ‘doofus,’ FYI. At any rate, yawn.

But here, Goldberg’s craft is such that you’re so in sympathy with Sal Cupertine, the hitman, that you’re cheering him on in spite of evidence on practically every page of his pathological and truly horrifying indifference to human life. (Goldberg reminds me of T. Jefferson Parker in that respect, he can make me cheer for all the wrong people.) His one redeeming quality is his love for his wife and child but really, aren’t they better off without him? Then, about halfway in, you’re afraid that Sal, now reincarnated as the Rabbi David Cohen, is going to take the Torah to heart and begin to repent of his previous profession. But no, and that’s all I’ll say, other than to add that this plot twist is one you really don’t see coming. Love it when I’m fooled.

And the voice, oh the voice. There are essentially two narrators, Sal the hitman (three, if you count David the rabbi) and Jeff Hopper the FBI guy chasing the white whale who killed his men, and they are all delightful to eavesdrop in on.

Jeff couldn’t help but wonder about the intersection in Bruno’s mind between cutting up bodies for the mob and showing nuclear American families real estate they probably couldn’t afford.

and

He didn’t have a secret place like that in Las Vegas, wasn’t even sure how to go about loking for one. There was nothing old in this town. Once something wasn’t useful anymore, they’d just implode it and start again, or do it like Fremont Street and throw a million lights on it and call it an “Experience” and give everyone a souvenir football filled with beer. Besides, he was a respected member of the community now, or would be beginning on Monday; he even had a set of keys to the temple, and that meant he needed to conduct himself a bit differently. He couldn’t exactly rent a murder shop.

and

She covered his hand with both her hands now, making a minifurnace that was heating his entire body. David examined the table for something sharp, but the waiter had taken the steak knives from the table. He didn’t know what he was looking to cut, anyway, other than maybe his own arm off at the wrist. At this point, he could probably do the job with a spoon.

and

You didn’t need a gun to rob someone anymore, you just needed a spreadsheet.

and my favorite

Christianity, unlike Judaism, Rabbi David Cohen learned, was about rejecting the idea of luck. It was a consequence-based process. If you led a pious life, good things would happen. If you led an evil life, bad things would surely follow. If you led a pious life and bad things still happened, then that was the hand of God, it was meant to be, and in the afterlife you would be rewarded with the gift of God’s eternal love. He created humans, gave them free will, only to demand fealty, or there would be hell to pay. Nothing was chance. All was either reward or punishment. It wasn’t unlike being in the Mafia.

Sal’s journey to David and what he does and doesn’t leave behind along the way makes for a fun read. Recommended.

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