My pal Gina Frangello interviewed me this week in The Rumpus:
We like the idea of a guy who gets away with it (“it” in this case being a variety of things: murder, robbery, general mayhem, adultery, screwing over the government, basic intimidation and thuggery, etc.). It’s a very American ideal – the freedom to break the law. The fact is, though, what I think we really like is Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and James Gandolfini. We like what the media has created of the mob bosses in movies and TV and books, because it’s something the average person never comes into contact with, it’s almost as outwardly outlandish as a sexy vampire, and so we can romanticize it, it’s non-threatening.
You can read the rest of it here.
…and they’re pretty good:
Starred Review: “Complex characters with understandable motivations distinguish this highly unusual crime novel from Goldberg (Living Dead Girl). When a sample of some particularly fine heroin causes Sal Cupertine, a hit man for the Chicago Family, to abandon his usual careful methods and execute three undercover FBI agents in a downtown hotel, Sal is certain that the Mafia will make him disappear. What he doesn’t expect is that, months later, after multiple plastic surgeries and much study of Judaic holy texts, he will reemerge into the light of day in Las Vegas as Rabbi David Cohen. Back in Chicago, FBI agent Jeff Hopper is determined to track Sal down and make him pay for killing his team of agents. All Sal really wants to do is get to his wife, Jennifer, and their toddler son, William, and then disappear. Goldberg injects Talmudic wisdom and a hint of Springsteen into the workings of organized crime and FBI investigative techniques and makes it all work splendidly.”
Starred Review: “Targeted by both the feds and his bosses in the Chicago mob after messing up on the job, a prolific hit man hides out in Las Vegas as, of all things, a rabbi. Sal Cupertine has been offing people for more than 15 years without being seen or leaving a spot of evidence. But on a bad day in 1998, he kills three FBI agents—”Donnie Brascos”—in a hotel room to avoid capture. The mob wants Sal’s head for ruining an unspoken arrangement with the feds that lets it buy heroin from the Mexicans. Sal’s older cousin in the “The Family” secretly transports him to Vegas, where, his face surgically altered, the hit man is trained to become Rabbi David Cohen. Meanwhile, Jeff Hopper, an underachieving FBI agent whose lack of planning is blamed for the deaths of his colleagues, is in pursuit. Suspended for refusing to go along with his superiors’ acceptance of a burned corpse as Sal’s, Hopper has his big moment dressing down mob enforcer Fat Monte, who proves wiser and more sensitive than he looks. Clearly influenced by the great Elmore Leonard, Goldberg puts his own dry comic spin on the material, with perhaps a bit more self-reflection on Sal/David’s part than Leonard would allow. While anyone with an Italian last name is grist for a crime columnist in late-’90s Vegas, the Kosher Nostra is quietly making its own big scores, running illicit schemes out of a local synagogue. With a memory that earned him the nickname Rain Man, Sal is great at spouting quotes from the Torah—even as he eyes his next victim—but has a tendency to mix those words up with Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Clever plotting, a colorful cast of characters and priceless situations make this comedic crime novel an instant classic.”Starred Review: “Sal Cupertine, the Chicago Mob’s go-to hitman, expects that his Mob-boss cousin, Ronnie, will have him killed after Sal kills three FBI undercover agents. Occupational hazard, thinks the thoughtful killer; his biggest concern is for his wife and young son. So he is surprised when he is spirited out of Chicago to Las Vegas and, after a series of surgeries, is told that he will become David Cohen, youth rabbi at sprawling and prosperous Temple Beth Israel. In due course, he is counseling synagogue members with nuggets of wisdom from the Torah and Talmud, and, occasionally, paraphrased Springsteen lyrics—and reading the Kaddish for dead gangsters from all over the country who are interred as Jews in the synagogue’s cemetery. Back in Chicago, the fired FBI agent responsible for the loss of the undercovers is sure Sal is alive and determined to find him; Rabbi Cohen is scheming to reunite with his family and wondering who is the bigger gangster: the synagogue’s founder, Rabbi Kales, or Bennie Savone, strip-club owner, synagogue benefactor, and Kales’ son-in-law? Sal’s transformation—and intermittent edification—into Rabbi Cohen is brilliantly rendered, and Goldberg’s careening plot, cast of memorably dubious characters, and mordant portrait of Las Vegas make this one of the year’s best hard-boiled crime novels. — Thomas Gaughan”