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The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats by Hesh…
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The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats

by Hesh Kestin

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I want to give this five stars just for the general milieu. There was something really lovable about this book, and while I'm not sure it ultimately lived up to the fabulous beginning I enjoyed it all the way through. The whole setting -- New York gangsters in 1963 -- was great, and I loved how Kestin set the noir genre on its ass in a really freewheeling, gum-cracking way. The fact that it was very literary appealed highly. Here you have a self-educated Brooklyn gangster who's extensively well-read, even if he does pronounce Camus "cay-mus," and the young protagonist, a 20-year-old bookworm Brooklyn College student. Great setup, wonderful characters, lots of good dialogue and action.

I do think he tried to cram in too much -- while I really like the political slant, and the interweaving of the events of the time, and the thread of weird morality that ran through the mob narrative, it had some truly didactic moments that just broke the spell. And some slightly didactic gratuitous sex that did the same for me -- I'm all for good sex that moves a story along, and most of it did here, but there was some brief Penthouse Forum-worthy action that kind of broke the spell.

I think shorter and snappier would have worked better altogether, but it was a fun ride nonetheless. And I still love both the cover image and the title to pieces.

My full review, which is a lot more alluring than the above, is here. ( )
  lisapeet | Mar 31, 2013 |
Evocative, hard boiled jewish gangster tale.

"To the members of the Bhotke Young Men’s Society, Shushan Cats was no criminal. The criminal statutes held no validity for those to whom the law meant only authorized starvation, torture, death. Everything done to the Jews of Europe … everything done to these had been absolutely legal, sanctioned by legitimate courts whose judges sat in black robes and vetted each and every decree as binding, fair, in the public interest, legal. Under these circumstances, that Shushan Cats was a Jewish gangster not only could not be held against him, but was a matter for celebration"

Evocative and entertaining, this is an amusing, gripping and unusual tale of the mob in 60s New York. Shoeshine cats, notorious Jewish mobster walks into the Bhotke young men’s society meeting and asks them take care of his mother funeral arrangements, outspoken Russell gets lumbered with the job and quickly gets sucked into the lifestyle as Cats takes him under his wing, grooming him for his own reasons.

Forget Godfather, this is superbly its own thing, with its own view of the world. Brilliantly written, with real but outrageously fun characters and pitch perfect hard boiled flowing dialogue that ensures you keep reading. Our narrator, Russell, is very endearing even whilst being an idiot, an essential fact in a 1st person story. The sense of place is imperative of a novel that is twisting mobster tale to show a different view, its historical and culture richness, the backdrop of huge events give an edge and again a modern sympathy to events. It’s a very well balanced novel, although for someone familiar that richness may irk.

The plot, well hmm for the 1st third its merely enjoyable and darkly amusing, intelligent story but trust me its swerves into a gripping, unputdownable tale and that probably spoils too much as it completely took me by surprise. All this deserves a brilliant rating but I felt a tiny bit unsatisfied by the end. Kestin manages to neatly tie up the wrong plot strands at the end.

Still it doesn’t really impinge on the enjoyment and I recommend this story to history and crime fans, lovers of hard boiled fiction and those wanting a breath of fresh air. Stephen King has been recommending it so it has just been republished in the UK. No excuses now. ( )
4 vote clfisha | May 22, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0976717786, Paperback)

 The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats (Publishers Weekly 10/26/09)

Hesh Kestin. Dzanc (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 paper (334p) ISBN 9780976717782

"From the author of the short fiction collection Based on a True Story comes a vibrant, hilarious addition to the genre of mob tragicomedy. Twenty-year-old Russell Newhouse, a quick-witted scholar and skirt-chaser, has New York’s organized crime scene thrust upon him by a man called Shushan “Shoeshine” Cats, who interrupts a meeting of a Brooklyn Jewish men’s society where Russell is serving as secretary. Shushan is in need of a favor and promptly takes Russell under his wing. What ensues is a classic boy-meets-mob story: part noir, part comedy, part epic. Kestin’s richly layered characters—a monstrously obese German organized crime attorney named Frit von Zeppelin, a Jewish Texan who speaks in malapropisms, a dentist who anglicizes or Yiddishizes his name depending on his mood—are straight out of Dickens; his vivid attention to the details of place, New York, and time, 1963, is like poetic journalism; and his snappy, concise prose and dialogue is on par with Raymond Chandler. Kestin zips through Russell’s sexual trysts, dealings in back rooms of Little Italy restaurants, and encounters with historical events like the JFK assassination with unflagging humor and insight." (Nov.)

 

Hesh Kestin’s Based on a True Story was a Kansas City Star Top Ten Book of 2008.

Jewish gangsters in 1960s New York City. A fast-paced, funny look at a time when America still seemed young and moving forward. A smart young man is mentored by the gangster of his time.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:34 -0400)

A ribald parable of 1960 gangsters, when America still had heart and humor.

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