The Big Crowd
Irish brothers making it big in New York City is a familiar story. The Big Crowd tells the particular story of brothers Tom and Charlie O’Kane. Charlie came over from Ireland first, paving the way for his younger brother Tom to join him in 1939. Both brothers take an interest in the law. Tom works as a dockyards organizer, attending law school at night. From humble beginnings as a beat cop, Charlie becomes district attorney for the city, then mayor of New York. Now, in 1953, it’s Tom who works for the district attorney’s office while Charlie and his young second wife live the expatriate life in Mexico City after Charlie’s ambassadorship to that country ended.
The history between the brothers, both personal and political, is dense. In fact, it’s almost too dense. Baker’s style is to layer flashback upon flashback. Tom is sent to Mexico City to wrestle the truth out of Charlie about the Kefauver hearings and Charlie’s term as mayor. Charlie alternately blusters and plays on their shared history to deflect his brother’s questions. Distracting Tom from the sidelines is Slim, Charlie’s wife. They too share a history.
Baker gets the tone of early to mid-20th century New York just right. The deals made between the law and the lawless are all too realistic. But a combination of too many flashbacks, confusing the narrative line, and the number of characters that had me wishing for an index to them made this less than successful. It was difficult to lose myself in the story when I had to flip back and forth, refreshing myself as to who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. Perhaps that was the point.