Angelo Vestieri is a gangster in every sense of the word. In 1996, he lies dying in a hospital bed, but through the two people closest to him, we learn his fascinating and terrible story. He was born to an Italian immigrant in 1906 and was raised on the mean streets of lower Manhattan. He became a gangster at an early age, hardened by adversity and smart enough to be a survivor. He became one of the biggest crime bosses America had ever seen. And he lies dying a lonely and bitter man.
This story is very well written and told with an amazing degree of evenhandedness. Even though he is the protagonist of this story, and a person for whom we feel some compassion, Angelo Vestieri is still a cold-blooded murderer, a mob boss, and an utterly ruthless individual. Lorenzo Carcaterra never sugar-coats our view of Angelo. It is only the narrator, Gabe, who does that, because Angelo took him in and raised him to be his successor. This is just as much Gabe’s story as it is Angelo’s, a contrast between a hard, cold story of death and violence, and a touching story of a boy coming of age.
The interesting thing about this novel is that Carcaterra has created an archetype gangster who is a cross between the type featured in James Cagney movies in the 30’s, and the Godfather, Don Corleone, of the 60’s. And yet Angelo is not a stereotype. He is as real to us as any of the mob bosses we read about in the newspapers and history books. He has depth and character. He is frightening and hard, yet we feel for him. I find it fascinating that Carcaterra never once mentions or even implies the existence of the big syndicate crime families. Angelo is a loner. He does not want or need a family, not even the Sicilian variety. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in gangster psychology, or who just wants a good, fast paced, action-filled read with well-rounded characters and a great story.