Unintentionally so, I read three consecutive books set in Greenwich Village (well, I guess technically three out of four as one of the books is a two-for-one and the second story isn’t set in the Village). I decided to cobble together one review of the stories since they shared this similarity…
When I’d first heard of Chin Gigante, I was more fascinated with the idea that the mob had a thriving operation in Greenwich Village, an area I’ve always associated with Bohemians and the LGBTQIA+ community. Apparently, for a time, it was a landing spot for Italian immigrants.
I was later fascinated when I read about Gigante’s “Oddfather” routine, finding it incredibly clever as he used it to avoid conviction for years, decades really. It may not have made for the most enjoyable gangster lifestyle but it helped the Chin remain in power for a long time.
So I was looking forward to reading this but eh…it’s just ok. It’s good to get a large picture of how the Genovese Family, perhaps the most successful of New York’s Five Families, operated. But I was hoping for some more understanding of Chin Gigante himself. How did things go with his first wife and family? What were his broader relationships like with his siblings?
Obviously, this was going to be tough to achieve. Gigante was a private person up to his death; it’s part of what made him so successful in his business. But while I enjoyed hearing mob tales, as I am want to do, I still felt like I didn’t get a clear picture of the man.
A lot of this seems to have been filtered through Gigante’s chatty, and still living, Catholic Priest brother. I found Louis to be a self-aggrandizing sort of person who did some great ministry in the south Bronx but after Googling him, saw that he was accused last year of molesting a child back in the 70s so forget him.
Anyway, this is an important read for folks like me who like New York mob tales but Chin’s life really cries out for a better book.
69 Barrow Street**/Strange Embrace***
This month’s Hard Case Crime was the hardest of the original releases to locate. A Lawrence Block twofer. Sadly, like most of Block’s early works, one only gets a glimpse of what a talented writer he would become…
69 Barrow Street is an erotic noir-ish paean to 1960s Greenwich Village. Block had a history early in his career of writing cheap erotic books but because he’s Lawrence Block, they came out better than his contemporaries. Still, while this one has its merits, it’s the sort of lipstick lesbian/Hero Penis/mammary obsessed tragedy that would be an interesting story with a better writer (like, say, Lawrence Block would become 15 years after this was published).
Strange Embrace is an entertaining little mystery tale in which the killer is very obvious, even for someone like me. I wish someone would adopt the Johnny Midnight presence for a new tv show. Hell everything’s an IP nowadays; maybe I just have to wait a few years.
The Pope of Greenwich Village ****
I had seen the movie years ago but remembered little so I decided to pick this up before watching the movie again (I also think they may be making a tv show?). It’s a fun little crime caper set in Ye Ole Neighborhood. The comparisons to George V. Higgins are partially earned here; Vincent Patrick creates great dialogue and believable characters. Some of the scenes were fun with two NYC dudes just yakkin’ to each other.
Some of the dialogue could lean a little heavy to the bigoted side. I’m well-aware that there were a lot of Out Loud Racists in that era but I don’t know that I needed to see the n-word every five pages to confirm this. There’s a difference between being honest about the times and wallowing in them. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining tale about guys just trying to make it in down-and-out New York City.