Saturday, 16 December 2017
Kings of America by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This Goodreads win is my first experience of Ellory's writing. As a piece of crime fiction it's more of a linear story rather than whodunnit. We know whodunnit in graphic fashion, it's the web of crime that slowly gets more tangled that is the glue in this thriller.
Danny McCabe flees Ireland for New York after becoming a wanted IRA fighter. Landing Stateside he meets Nicky and Lucia Marioni and together they start their life together in the land of dreams. At first Danny's boxing skills and Nicky's management looks to be their way to riches and the method of bankrolling Lucia's desires to get into the movies. Another bad turn sees them leave New York quicker than planned and the remainder of the story sees their lives move on in Hollywood as Danny changes identity to avoid the authorities and Nicky sinks into the underworld.
Now, I'm wondering if the publication of this book has been rushed. I'm happy for someone to point out to me that I've missed something but there are huge issues with the scope of the story and it's development. The blurb of the book states that it is set over 3 decades and the Goodreads description states it is an 'epic that spans the 1930s to the 1960s' (which is actually 4 decades) and yet it doesn't reach the 1950s. This wouldn't be an issue of the descriptions weren't read, I wouldn't have picked up on it otherwise, but it does also pick up on another nagging problem I had with the plot.
The second world war is pretty much mentioned in passing and the real action jumps from America's entry into the war in the early 40s to the end of the war. With a deeper plot this could be explained but for no reason we skip a few years. If Danny doesn't go back to Ireland and Nicky back to Corsica to fight then the same plot could be continued during the war but for some reason it is important that the war ends. Here comes the other hole that bugs me..
Louis Hayes is a detective determined to bring down the whole mob running Los Angeles. He's got his eyes on Nicky and doesn't let go in bringing him to book. So why take so long? 6 or so years after a crime is committed Hayes is still trying to resolve it. I'm wondering if there is a much more epic story here and an entire section set in the Second World war back in Europe so that the action in LA is put on hold for a while. Has this been cut? There may well be a finale that has been ditched that covers the later years - or maybe a sequel that hasn't been alluded to.
Given my criticisms above it could be a surprise that I gave as high as five stars. Well, the book is with it's high points. A bit of mob culture is always a good piece of escapism and this helps with that escape. The main characters are believable (although Hayes is clumsily brought into the story) and the lesser characters have their parts to play and play it well.
The biggest seller of all is the era. The glamour of Hollywood in the years either side of the war is fascinating and this story tells not of those that made it big in the pictures but who made a living around the edges - legally and illegally; easily and desperately. Real life people such as Lucille Ball and F Scott Fitzgerald appear at differing ends of careers and many, many references are made to classic movies. Film buffs might like the setting and it's a fair novel, but crime purists are going to be disappointed.
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