Friday, September 12, 2008

Forgotten books: Dead City by Shane Stevens

Originally published in '73 by Holt. the book was reprinted in '92 by Carroll & Graf, probably because Stephen King mentioned it in the afterword of his '89 The Dark Half, and this reprint carries the front cover blurb by King, "One of the finest novels ever written about the dark side of the American dream". In his "The Dark Half" afterword, King also says about Stevens' books, "I recommend them unreservedly...but only readers with strong stomachs and stronger nerves need apply." I haven't read Stevens other books yet, but it certainly applies to Dead City. This is a brutal, extremely violent book that looks at the dirtiest aspects of the mob business, and could've almost been a blueprint for the Sopranos. The book focuses mostly on three members of the Jersey City mob; Joe Zucco, a mob boss, Charlie Flowers, a depressed sort whose career has stalled out due to a failed hit and is mostly now doing strongarm stuff, and Harry Strega, a kid fresh out of the Vietnam war, who is trying to work his way up through Zucco's organization. This book pulls no punches as it shows how there is little loyalty, honor, and decency among these criminals. Anything goes, anything seems to be fair game, and there's a realism that makes you think Stevens must've have had friends in the mob, or at least hung around those who did. The ending is a kick in the face, as cruel an ending as I've come across, and a perfect metaphor for workers struggling for the American dream.

6 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Dave. Keep em coming.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Patti, more than happy to give attention to this book--it's really a great one.

Anonymous said...

don anderson said...

Great choice, Dave. More folks should check out Shane Stevens.

Anonymous said...

Dave - When I read your entry here, I happened to be about 200 pages into DEAD CITY. I mentioned the book on The Big Adios as violent downer novel about the New Jersey mob rackets and the criminal ranks involved.

Stevens makes the reader emphasize with doomed, lowlife criminals: disgraced hit man Flowers and the new-blood soldier Harry Strega. We experience their grim profession, we peer at their personal lives, and we witness their power-struggle within the syndicate. I struggle to avoid "spoilers" when describing books (esp. when it's a book I love as much as DEAD CITY)...having said that, fellow sickies look out for an notably appalling and gruesome scene involving a baby. Once you've read that, realize that the worst is yet to come!

I also picked up a copy of my 1st Ray Banks book, SATURDAY'S CHILD. Promises violence, booze, and drugs and delivers all three crucial elements. In the first few pages, a junkie's head is bashed and shoved into a toilet bowl and emerges spitting blood & urine, with a piece of shit clinging to his face. I think this is what they call a "cozy" in the trade... or maybe I'm just looking for the expression "Donkey Punch" (one of the titles for Ray's follow-up, also released as SUCKER PUNCH.)

Banks makes the characters' Tartan vernacular easily understood for U.S. crime readers.

I'm really dying to read KILLER - I see review copies are popping up. I notice the Ray Banks novel is yet another riff on the man-out-prison trying/failing to stay straight. And I also recalled Charlie Stella writing one like that.

After three tries I scored an ex-library copy of BAD THOUGHTS s that's up next. Would like to check out the Anthony Neil Smith books - Hogdoggin et al, but they're scarce in local bookstores where I try to take all my business.

Marketing line/shameless review copy request:

"I'M DYING TO READ 'KILLER'!"

David Szulkin
601 W. Doran Street
Glendale, C 91203

cz said...

I'm an old friend of Shane Stevens and just wondered if anyone knows how to get ahold of him? Crystal Z

Anonymous said...

It is a good mean book. "By Reason of Inanity" is meaner still.