Cover image for Mobtown
Kelly, Jack, 1949-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2002]

Physical Description:
271 pages ; 25 cm
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This new page-turner from the author of Line of Sight is packed with great writing, complex characters, a shocker of an ending, and a dose of pure attitude.

Writing with the deft skill of Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, but adding a hip, noirish twist all his own, Jack Kelly packs a punch in this new novel set in the deceptively quiet neighborhoods of 1950s Rochester, New York. Ike Van Savages latest case starts out simply enough: a threatening husband and a beleaguered wife. But before he knows it, hes pulled into a serpentine mystery that involves the towns most notorious gangster, a dead heiress, and one too many "accidents." Mobtown seethes with undercurrents of passion, drips with moody detail, and brims over with proof that Jack Kelly deserves an honored place among writers of suspense and detective fiction.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Kelly has fun with the old-fashioned private-eye story, giving his ex-cop turned down-at-heels gumshoe a rollickingly tough city (Rochester, N.Y.), a nostalgic time slot (the fifties), and the kind of office life where a beautiful woman with a smoky voice ("It was a voice that knew things") sits on his desk, crosses her million-dollar legs, and tells him she's in trouble, big trouble. Reading Kelly is like listening to Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noir" escapades but with some real excitement to chase down the laughs. Ike Van Savage's latest client, the blond with the nonstop legs and problems, charges that her husband is trying to kill her--just like he iced her two predecessors in the marital bed. The investigation leads to Rochester's Mafia kingpin. Kelly deepens the character of his private eye by making him divorced (of course) but deeply involved with his 10-year-old daughter. Nice spin. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in 1959 Rochester, N.Y., this excursion into noir from the author of Line of Sight owes much to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, though it captures little of their panache. As divorced ex-cop-turned-PI Dwight "Ike" Van Savage (an attempt to evoke both Eisenhower and Doc Savage?) trails philandering Eddie Gill, a husband and father of four involved with a 16-year-old girl, Ike's thoughts turn to his own 10-year-old daughter: "I didn't want to think of her growing up in a world of Eddie Gills." True to the classic tradition, Ike's soon in over his head: a young woman named Sandy Mink turns up in the morgue with her throat cut; Gill is the prime suspect because Sandy knew he was running guns for local mafioso Joe Petrone. But that's just the beginning. Many dead bodies later, Ike confronts the killer in a pyrotechnic finish, yet the mystery itself, with all its attendant twists and sanguinary episodes, doesn't satisfy as it should. An unwelcome sense of vu hangs over the proceedings, while the period details, despite numerous, desultory topical references (What My Line?, The Seven Year Itch, the Patterson-Johansson heavyweight fight, George "Superman" Reeves's suicide), fail to convince. In addition, the plot is so diffuse that things occasionally come unglued, and decent tough-guy Ike remains no more than a crude sketch. Kelly's medium-boiled style has been likened to James M. Cain's hard-hitting prose, but it's clear, based on this outing, that he's not yet in that league. (Jan. 9) Forecast: With plugs from such big names as Donald Westlake, Joe Gores and George P. Pelecanos, as well as the movie release late in 2001 of Protection, for which Kelly wrote the screenplay from an earlier novel, Mobtown may well garner plenty of publicity and sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Here, Kelly (Line of Sight) manages once more to breathe new and wonderfully sleazy life into the hard-boiled mystery format. The year is the politically incorrect 1959, and the unlikely place is Rochester, NY. Private detective Ike Van Savage's business is booming. He's on a domestic case, shadowing a married man who's squiring a 16-year-old around town, and following a prominent mobster whose wife reports that he is trying to kill her. Before Ike can make much progress on either case, he is fired by both of his employers. Still, the aftermath of the investigations that he had only just begun manages to be explosive enough to blow away (both literally and figuratively) the facade of easy respectability behind which Rochester has retired. While the book doesn't break any new ground, its mastery of the hard-boiled mix of marshmallow heart and existential angst is exact, right down to similes that stand out "like a bride in a slaughterhouse." Recommended wherever the genre is in demand; fans won't be disappointed. Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One WEDNESDAY YOU DON'T JUDGE IN this business. You judge, you climb aboard the emotional roller coaster. It takes you up and down and around and around and leaves you off right where you started.     You don't judge, you don't get distracted. Your attention wanders for two seconds, your man slips, you spend the next five hours staring at an empty rabbit hole.     Trouble was, I did judge. I was following a guy, a matrimonial job, Eddie Gill, thirty-seven, four kids, squiring a sixteen-year-old to an after-hours joint and then to a five-dollar motel on the truck route.     Now, if he'da been thirty-two and she was eighteen and it was only two kids and he took her someplace nice, I might have said what the hell. I was thirty-two myself and divorced. Who was I to talk?     But I had a daughter who was going to be ten, and I didn't want to think of her growing up in a world of Eddie Gills. Plus, I had listened to the wife's side of it, and just the suspicion was giving a good woman a lot of pain.     So, okay, I judged the guy.     God, it was hot. That summer, '59, was a scorcher. The county had opened Durand Beach for night swimming. Driving past, I could see the glow of the big floodlights groping the black enamel of Lake Ontario, whole families of ghosts wading in the tepid water.     All the hot dog stands and frozen custard joints along the shore were mobbed. Beach resorts were crowded from Hamlin all the way out to Sodus. About midnight, Earl Clear and I, using a leapfrog tail, had followed our subject's car to a stand he owned that said EDDIE GILL'S TEXAS HOTS and GROUND ROUND in big letters. He wasn't hard to stick to. He drove a new apple-green Edsel, with that grille that looked like an Olds sucking a lemon, the square rear end, and the chrome in all the wrong places.     I parked across the street and watched the carhops running around in their short flounced skirts. Gill was a heavy, wheezy man who couldn't keep his shirttails tucked in. His elaborate comb job failed to cover his bald dome. He spent some time crabbing at the counterman and chewing out the cook. Then he sat down to count the night's receipts.     He doused the lights on the sign and the staff went home, all except one of the waitresses. She slipped into the ladies' and came out wearing a party dress tight enough to show the world she had more body than she knew what to do with. She was coltish, long in the thigh, unsteady on her high heels, a kid auditioning for adulthood. While he locked up, she laid one hand on her belly and pirouetted, anticipating a dance. Gill caught her from behind and ground his hips against her slim backside.     She held on to his arm as they walked to his car. I propped the telephoto lens on my dash and got them passing under the streetlight.     Earl and I followed them to a Polynesian restaurant on Clover, one of those places with tiki lamps and bead curtains. Gill gave no sign he suspected a tail.     They were inside just long enough to polish off a couple of mai tais and a plate of sweet and sour. Next stop was the Tic Tac Club on Winton Road. I was surprised--the Tic Tac seemed a little classy for a guy like Gill. It was a place that catered to high rollers, moneyed playboys, and politicians on the make. It was done up like a Roman circus, with plaster statues of satyrs peeing into goldfish ponds and a twelve-foot-high Bacchus covered in pigeon droppings.     I steered into the parking area of the shopping strip opposite.     "His mind's on her," I told Earl when he pulled alongside. "You might as well turn in." Earl's older than me and he needs his rest.     "Why not bust his ass? That kid's jail bait."     "If I still had a badge, maybe."     "What badge? Need a badge to kick a guy's teeth in?"     He was right and we both knew it, but I said, "Client's paying me cash. I watch, I report. I look, I don't judge."     "You're the boss," he said. He palmed his suicide knob and disappeared.     My eyes fell into a sentry rhythm. You can't stare, you can't look away. I checked a woman waiting for her clothes to spin in a late-night launderette in the strip, her legs crossed, I looked back to the club. I watched a green-and-blue parrot gnawing its perch in the window of a pet store, I looked at the stars piercing the hot haze. Near the entrance opposite, Michelangelo's David was glancing at the sky himself and looking like he'd give a week's pay for a fig leaf.     I checked the dashboard dock. I saw two women emerge from the Tic Tac, laughing as they lit cigarettes, the guy with them a dead ringer for John Cameron Swayze. I noticed the woman in the laundry holding up a black brassiere, I switched back to the club. A box of Tide, a nervous hamster, a gum wrapper in the gutter.     The gaudy Edsel was parked right across from me. I guess Gill was the type of guy they'd intended it for, a loser who wanted to show off on the cheap.     When my party came out, she was having trouble walking and he was doing things you don't do to a girl in public. I snapped some more photos. This was a private eye's meat and potatoes.     I know in the books the detective sneers at matrimonial work. In real life, it's your meal ticket. Mix up sex, love, hate, jealousy, and suspicion, throw in some fear--it's a stew that brings them in the door eager to pay hard cash for a scrap of certainty.     He tumbled her into his car, thumbed his shirt under his waistband, and drove to a long brick building with MOTEL in lipstick-red neon. He already had a key to room number 6. I waited in the parking lot of a used car dealer across the road.     I hadn't been sleeping well. Was there a time when I did sleep well? Those hot summer nights I spent a lot of hours lying alone on damp sheets and wondering what it all added up to. As soon as I turned off my engine, a wave of fatigue washed over me.     I poured a last swallow of iced coffee into the plastic cup of my Thermos and shook out two tiny pills from a brown glass vial. I put them on my tongue and washed them down.     I'd picked up the Benzedrine habit in the army. Bennies were your friend when you needed to stay awake, or needed to goose your morale, or needed to keep the darkness at bay. They put a knife edge on your mind, at least for a little while. Later was a different story, but behind a couple of bennies, later was beside the point.     The metallic taste filled my mouth. I gritted my teeth as time turned into a polished rail and my thoughts began to accelerate, steel on steel.     I found myself thinking about Korea, nights in Asia, guys I had known over there who were missing every one of these moments that would have been their lives. And for what?     One of those high-pitched voices that whispers in your ear said, You know for what, Ike. For a trip to the end of night. For a vision of something wild. See the world, they said. Well, you saw the world.     For some reason, I remembered reading about the first white man to reach western New York, a Frenchman named Étienne Brûlé. Got this far and heard the drums and went native. The story was he'd had a falling out with the Hurons. They killed him. I don't know if they cooked him, but they ate him.     I steered my thoughts to Gloria, to her dimples, her birthday coming up in a couple of days. Ten already. She had told me she would be a teenager because it was two digits. Jesus.     I thought about a girl I had known during school, before Eileen, and wondered what had happened to her. I even thought about Eileen for a little while, imagined ways I could have kept my marriage from going down the drain.     You think a lot of things, waiting. I turned on the radio low. I was glad to hear the DJ on WHAM playing Billie Holiday. That station, it was usually Perry Como, the human tranquilizer.     Billie sang "Travelin' Light" and, right after, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Oo, oo, oo. It was a voice with the surface stripped away, all heart. The voice of somebody who's way out in front of the parade.     Then the announcer said the music was a tribute. Billie Holiday had passed away. Dead at forty-four. It didn't seem possible.     I thought about a lot of things that night. And for a time, I didn't think, just listened to the crickets as they crinkled the air, just watched a lazy orange slice of moon float down behind the saw-toothed roof of a factory building.     Somebody once said it's not the places you go, it's the odd hours you keep--a church up the street in the early morning fog can be as magical as Notre Dame in Paris. That was another thought that wandered through my mind as I watched the air go pearly over the motel and then watched the sign begin to leach pink into the eastern sky.     When they came out, the girl was gripping her elbows and walking with her head down. Gill held his hand on her neck and steered her toward his car. I should have taken him apart. He'd just stolen her innocence, which was probably all she had that was worth half a damn.     I followed them across town to a rundown section off West Main. He let her out on Cicero Street and drove away.     I was the only one who watched her mount the sagging porch steps of a disheveled two-family house. She walked slowly, as if she were climbing into a bleak future. Chapter Two I DROVE TO MY apartment on Oxford Street and took the shower that would have to stand in for a night's sleep. I turned the water to cold and stayed under the needles until I felt relaxed and my breathing slowed to normal. I put on a clean light-blue shirt, a smoke-colored summer-weight suit, and a narrow-brimmed fedora.     Down at the stainless-steel Empire I ordered two poached on buttered rye toast, a small T-bone, home fries, and a broiled grapefruit. I put away three cups of coffee and two Luckies, enjoying that feeling you get, when you've been awake all night, that you're a step ahead of the suckers who are just getting up.     The traffic in Rochester had been getting bad the last few years. Everybody had a car. The city was busy dumping federal money into six-lane bypasses that would solve the problem. For now, we were stuck with congestion that ground to a standstill nearly every rush hour.     Newsboys hawked papers to drivers locked in the jam. I bought one and glanced at it as we inched along. I read about how Eisenhower wasn't going to let the steelworkers push him around. I was (Continues...) Excerpted from MOBTOWN by Jack Kelly. Copyright © 2002 by Jack Kelly. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.