The Desert Sun had an excellent series, Gangsters In Paradise, that I was happy to play a small role in:
It’s the mid-’80s. Society writer Jan Curran and her children arrive at Paul di Amico’s Steak House, where on any given night you could run into a wide range of characters, legit and otherwise.
The mayor, Frank Bogert, is here. Businessmen and real estate agents are seated at center tables, mingling with the movers and shakers coming in and out of the piano lounge. Regular folks and a smattering of old Hollywood celebrities occupy the cushioned booths. So do some cops and mobsters.
Mobsters don’t faze the always-fashionable Curran. She regularly regales her kids with stories of “Fat Philly” and “Jerry the Crusher.” For Tod Goldberg, the youngest of Curran’s four children, the scene at the restaurant is like a movie. The only problem is he’s watching a bit too intently when a gruff-looking patron thinks he’s eavesdropping.
The New York Times Book Review says nice things about Gangsterland…just about the nicest things, ever, when you get right down to it:
For many of us, “The Godfather,” book or movie, ushered us into a second boyhood, teaching that the incorrigible vitality of a first-rate gangster story could temporarily inoculate us against adult sanity. For readers of a like mind, Tod Goldberg’s “Gangsterland” will arrive as a gloriously original Mafia novel: 100 percent unhinged about the professionally unhinged.
The nice people at The Rap Sheet have named Gangsterland one of the top books of 2014:
[A]n exceedingly sage and witty thriller that reveals no chinks in the armor, no narrative lines to nowhere, and with a “look Ma, no hands” ease of invention that would have Elmore Leonard turning over in his grave to see who has taken his place as one of the best writers around.
The Jewish Journal spent a bit of time with me and realized I’m just a nice Jewish boy with murderous fantasies:
Tod Goldberg was excited to have his author photo taken for the jacket of his new crime novel, “Gangsterland” (Counterpoint Press).
“I’ve always wanted to be one of those dudes that dresses like their characters on their book jackets,” Goldberg said. “Any crime writer that’s wearing a trench coat and has a bulldog on a leash, I always think, ‘Yeah, you’re living it, dude.’ That’s my life. I want that.”
His actual author photo is far more conservative. Although Goldberg may be a nice Jewish boy who dreams of passing as a gangster, he’s far from the antihero protagonist of “Gangsterland,” a legitimate Chicago Mafia killer-for-hire who disguises himself as a rabbi in the Las Vegas suburbs.
After killing three undercover FBI agents in a drug deal gone wrong, Sal Cupertin goes underground, where a plastic surgeon rewires his jaw to reconstruct his face. He spends weeks poring over the Talmud and midrash in order to convince synagogue members that he is Rabbi David Cohen. Sal takes a while to grow into his new identity: “David Cohen? That wasn’t a tough guy. That was a guy who fixed your glasses. That was your lawyer.”
It sounds far-fetched, but the transformation of Cuperti into Cohen is the true joy of “Gangsterland.”
If you’re living in a foreign country and wondering just when you’ll get the chance to read Gangsterland, here’s who’ll be publishing the novel around the world…with more to come soon:
Bulgaria: Soft Press
England: Titan Books
France: Super 8
Germany: C. Bertelsmann (2016)
Italy: Sperling & Kupfor
The Netherlands: Querido (Summer 2015)
And if you’re waiting for the audio book, the nice folks at Blackstone will be releasing a full unabridged version in early 2015.
…but it’s fine to talk about me the way Chuck Twardy at Las Vegas Weekly did:
Tod Goldberg writes in a cleverly spun novel that forced me to abandon my wiseguy moratorium. Goldberg has an amusing flair for contemporary hard-boil, and he knows his crime and crime-fighting procedures. He sets his story in 1998, a neat hinge point for Las Vegas, too, morphing from the Mob’s skimming pool to a corporate spa town. The madly growing city sold itself as Disneyland with gambling. And, well … other amusements, like Wild Horse, the strip club owned by Bennie Savone.
The New York Times weighs in on Gangsterland…
Tod Goldberg’s comic crime novel opens with a Chicago gangster, Sal Cupertine, murdering several F.B.I. agents in a hotel room. He’s then shipped in a meat truck to Las Vegas, where he undergoes an arduous transformation into Rabbi David Cohen (“a new nose and chin,” new teeth, tattoos laser-removed and rigorous study of holy texts). The book alternates between the desert, where Cohen oversees a temple and its cemetery (which the mob uses for laundering cash and corpses), and Chicago, where the lone survivor of the hotel room blood bath is intent on learning the killer’s whereabouts. In his plotting, dialogue and empathy for the bad guys, Goldberg aspires to the heights of Elmore Leonard. For those who miss the master, “Gangsterland” is a high-grade substitute.
As a kid, the San Francisco Chronicle was the paper I read first thing every morning, so it’s always particularly cool to be in their pages. Here, the excellent writer Tony Dushane talked to me about all things Gangsterland…but also about how writing Burn Notice helped teach me to write crime fiction:
“I wrote five ‘Burn Notice’ books, and that was really the way to teach myself how to write crime stories,” he says. “I didn’t know how to make people turn the page and be interested in the story. All my books before that were so depressing and sad.”
Goldberg had meetings with show creator Matt Nix about how to approach the “Burn Notice” novels. “He gave me his theories on what the character was and what the show was about and about not just littering the streets with bodies, and it really stuck with me that you can write crime and it can be entertaining and it can be funny but you can still have inside of it an actual beating heart. And writing those five ‘Burn Notice’ books absolutely honed that skill for me.”
Oh, Rabbi Cohen’s also Sal Cupertine, a ruthless Chicago mafia hit man who’s had to assume a new identity after getting set up for the murder of FBI agents. And in Tod Goldberg’s laugh-while-you-cringe new novel “Gangsterland,” he’s one of the most compelling, and repulsive, crime-fiction protagonists in a long time.
We also got in depth about the big issues:
No one in the story comes off clean, except maybe children. Even rabbis are corrupted. Does that reflect your view of human nature?
I believe we all have our problems. We’re all works in progress. Particularly in crime fiction, you’re dealing with shades of horrible. Think of classic crime fiction — Sam Spade was a horrible human being, a dreadful guy. There’s a lineage of shades of grey with people who do bad things. I wanted to show the evolution of someone really horrible — like Sal — who perhaps by end of the book, you get a grudging empathy for. Someone loves him, and he loves somebody. That creates a sense of identification for the reader — I hope. There’s something in him that’s not unlike you.
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