Friday, March 24, 2006

SHAKEDOWN by Charlie Stella

Pegasus Books, June 2006, ISBN 1933648058

The days of the Godfather are long gone, if they ever really existed. The modern mob is even more dangerous, filled with street level thugs and psychopathic egos. And no one captures the true spirit of modern mobsters better than Charlie Stella, the best dialogue man currently working the crime fiction beat.

Stella's latest release, Shakedown, is one of his most entertaining yet. We've already said that Stella reads like Elmore Leonard writing an episode of the Sopranos, but nowhere is it more evident than in Shakedown where characters like Tommy Agro manage to at once exude a horrendous sense of danger and yet still make us laugh when they mangle the English language completely while, "getting down to brass taxes."

With guys like that populating Stella's mob world, its no wonder that Bobby G wants out of the life. When he has to choose between guys like Agro and his girlfriend, Lin Yao, there's no choice to be made. Except nobody wants to let Bobby go and soon the ex-con is facing more trouble than he could ever have anticipated.

Stella's books show a mob world that's falling apart. With the rats going to the feds and guys like Bobby G who just want out of the life, Stella's world is one where people are living in the past and refusing to accept the future. Every character in Shakedown is out for themselves, and with no one listening and everybody talking, its anybody's bet who's going to come out on top. Like Agro says, "Even a broken clock has a bad day."

Like Leonard, Stella's plots can seem slight on first reading but gradually you come to realise just how complex the action is. With so many balls in the air, Stella's should have a hard time keeping track of his crew, but he manages to bring everything together in a grand finale that is as clever as it is entertaining. Its this feeling like a good buddy with a great story to tell that gives Shakedown its urgency. You have to know what happens next. And its not even simply the plot that drives you. Just knowing what happens between Bobby G - who wants out of the wiseguy lifestyle - and his girl (the sexy-as-hell Lin Yao) is enough to keep those pages turning. Stella creates moments between characters that seem almost incidental but manage to keep you hooked until you realise just how important that throwaway line was to the shape of Stella's deceptively easy-going plot.

If you haven't read Stella yet, seek out his books and indulge yourself in the company of one of the most entertaining and gripping story tellers of the moment. Charlie Stella is one of the best modern American crime writers and if you want proof of that, just grab a copy of Shakedown, sit back and enjoy.

Russel McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, 18/05/06