Thursday, March 24, 2022

Review: Gangsterland

Gangsterland Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A rabbi and a Mafia hitman walk into a bar. The joke is that they’re the same person.

Sal Cupertine is a contract killer for the mob in Chicago, and for decades he managed to remain in the shadows. That all changes after he walks into a FBI sting operation and ends up killing several agents. Now at the top of the most wanted list, Sal is smuggled to Las Vegas by the mob who also fake his death.

After plastic surgery, Sal learns that he’s expected to take on the identity of Rabbi David Cohen as part of the organization for a local gangster who is running schemes connected to a synagogue including disposing of bodies in the Jewish cemetery. With a near photographic memory and an instinct for reading people, Sal quickly falls into the role of a rabbi even as he is making is own plans to somehow reunite with the wife and son he left back in Chicago. However, Jeff Hopper was scapegoated for Sal’s murders of his fellow FBI agents in Chicago, and Jeff is convinced that Sal is still alive and is determined to find him. Sal/David also finds that he’s still got to deal with the dangerous web of mob politics.

I had mixed feelings on this one. There was a lot I liked with a unique story, good characterizations, and some black humor. The idea of a mob hitman pretending to be a rabbi sounds like a goofy plot from an ‘80s action-comedy movie, but Goldberg sets up the premise well and makes it seem plausible. There’s some interesting stuff with Sal learning things about Jewish culture, but this isn’t a story of a bad guy who gets a change of heart. More like Sal is still a killer deep down, he’s just adopting to a new community he has respect for.

However, it also seemed just a little drawn out and slow with a lot of time spent on the internal reflections of both Sal/David and Jeff Hopper with both men piling up regrets by their choices that led them to that point. It got a little repetitive with points rehashed again and again.

I started to feel like the entire books could have been a prologue, and in the end, you find out that this is indeed only the start of a story. I knew there was at least a second book to this, but I wasn’t prepared for how little gets resolved here. So the whole novel just felt like sequel set-up.

Still, I liked it enough that I will check out the next one, but if it doesn’t give me more sense of resolution and satisfaction than this one did, I’ll be very disappointed.

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