Cover image for The rackets
The rackets
Kelly, Thomas, 1961-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Physical Description:
374 pages ; 24 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A bare-knuckled novel set during a rigged union election in New York City.WithThe Rackets-- about construction workers and the mobsters who run their union -- Thomas Kelly, the most talented urban novelist to come along in a generation, cements his reputation as the heir to James T. Farrell and George V. Higgins. After putting himself through college by working as a day laborer, Jimmy Dolan goes to work for a smug Republican mayor. When he tries to settle an old dispute with his fists, he finds himself out of a job -- and sought out by Frankie Keefe, the corrupt union boss he knocked to the carpet. Jimmy's saintly father is running against Keefe for the presidency of the teamsters, and when he is brutally forced out of the running, Jimmy must risk his life -- and that of his estranged girlfri, Tara, a New York policewoman -- to def the interests of the rank and file. The novel, set in the union halls, taverns, and half-built skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, depicts every shade of New York Irish -- as well as Italian mobsters, Russian killers, and a gun-running Gulf War veteran on disability. ButThe Racketsis also a vivid and affecting picture of the gritty uptown neighborhood of Inwood and the lives its residents have made for themselves. More than any writer working today, Kelly knows how the players in the city gain and maintain their power; from the ups and downs of the working class, he makes literature.

Author Notes

Thomas Kelly worked in construction, graduated from Fordham & Harvard, then served as Mayor David N. Dinkins' liaison the labor unions. A Teamster, he writes for "Esquire" & the "Daily News". His first novel, "Payback", has been adapted by David Mamet for a feature film.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A Mob-Teamster nexus anchors the story Kelly tells and gives its Manhattan setting an atmosphere of menace. That menace surrounds the upstanding union do-gooders who are the main characters and drives the plot. Union president Frankie Keefe, a crude front man for a mobster, is challenged by Mike Dolan in a government-supervised election. The prospect of Dolan upsetting Keefe alarms not only the mobster, who puts a contract out on Dolan, but also "Roth," a federal official of uncertain agency affiliation but definite ability to manipulate and compromise whomever he wants. While doom looms for Dolan, Roth, growing nervous about the loyalty of his informer on Keefe (Keefe's driver), plants photos guaranteed to provoke Keefe's homicidal tendencies. In the fallout, Dolan's son, Jimmy, raises the clean-union banner and wins the election, only to discover an awful irony--string-puller Roth can force him to become the new Keefe. That dangling conclusion rather begs for a sequel, which those who relish Kelly's portrayal of Irish Americans in the underbelly of the hard-hat world will surely welcome. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Written by a former construction worker and Teamster who worked his way through Fordham and Harvard to become "director of advance," a chief aide and troubleshooter for the mayor of New York City, this rugged, straight-shooting novel (following Kelly's well-reviewed debut, Payback) is shaped by intimate firsthand knowledge. Jimmy Dolan, the Director of Advance for the Republican mayor of New York, is fired after his hotheaded exchange with Frankie Keefe the Mafia-connected president of the local Teamsters who is running for reelection against Jimmy's father, Mike makes front-page headlines. Overnight a political pariah, Jimmy seeks refuge among his old friends in a formerly Irish neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan. Reunited with his old girlfriend Tara O'Neil, now an NYPD cop, and Liam Brady, an ex-paratrooper construction worker with an active commerce in illegal arms, Jimmy ends up back in construction. On the job, he witnesses the cold-blooded assassination of his father, who is becoming too much of a threat to Keefe. Vowing to avenge the death, Jimmy decides to run in his father's place. His own life and his friends' lives are soon threatened in what is revealed to be an uneven battle: Keefe is an informer, under government protection. Fighting deceit and betrayal, Jimmy prevails against all odds in this damning indictment of the clandestine interplay between big government and the criminal underground. Despite minor lapses into overlong, melodramatic introspection, the suspense holds to the end, and the novel draws readers deep into a gritty, wholly convincing world of late-20th-century union halls and construction sites. (June) Forecast: The chips are stacked in Kelly's favor here. His unusual history should attract plenty of attention, and a feature film of Payback, adapted by David Mamet, is on its way. This is a strong second effort, and a jump in sales may safely be expected. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Jimmy Dolan loses his job as an advance man for the mayor of New York City when he loses his temper at a mayoral function and knocks down a prominent, mob-connected Teamster, who, coincidentally, is opposed in a current union election by Dolan's father, an underdog rank-and-filer with principles. Things go rapidly downhill for the two Dolans thereafter, and soon Jimmy, his policewoman girlfriend Tara, and their mutual childhood friend Liam are dragged into a murky swirl of machinations by, among others, the Italian and Russian organized crime underground, some vague federal agency, and various informers, none of which becomes any clearer as the book progresses to its uncertain end. In this follow-up to Payback, his highly praised debut, Kelly can't seem to decide if he's writing a screenplay treatment (plenty of gratuitous violence), a fast-paced thriller (quick cuts back and forth among plot strands), or a complex urban reality novel (lots of gratuitous descriptive detail about New York City), and so he comes up short on all three fronts. Recommended for libraries serving New York City or for specialized fiction collections of union or Mafia-related novels. David Dodd, Marin Cty. Free Lib., San Rafael, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.