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Jackie Disaster: A Novel Hardcover – June 25, 2003
From Publishers Weekly
The world of the private eye and the spy gets spun for the 21st century in Dezenhall's broadly comic romp, in which Jackie Disaster protects the reputations of corporate clients under attack. Born Giovanni De Sesto, Jackie picked up his moniker as a kid boxer fighting in Golden Gloves and has grown up to head Allegation Sciences, with offices in an Atlantic City casino. Hired by Sally Naturale-kind of a mutated Martha Stewart from Jersey-after a woman claims she lost her unborn baby from drinking one of Sally's soy milk products, Disaster heads out to discredit the accuser and make the daffy Sally look as untarnished as possible. Dezenhall (Money Wanders), who once worked in the Reagan White House and currently is president of a crisis management firm, seems to be extrapolating the action from his popular nonfiction book, Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses (1999). The undercover scenes with Jackie and his crew, known as the Imps, are great entertainment, with the Mafia hovering in the shadows and that Jersey setting, where "the Rocky movies had once been to the Delaware Valley what the Koran is to Islam." But the more realistic moments-Jackie's romance, problems with his father and raising his orphaned niece as a single dad-don't quite click amid all the clowning. This novel provides lots of fun in a Carl Hiassen mode.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Dezenhall's second novel shows the author growing as a storyteller. His debut, Money Wanders [BKL F 1 02], was funny and perceptive, but his latest effort, again starring Atlantic City crisis-management expert Jackie "Disaster" DeSesto, has a little more depth and does not depend quite so much on wacky set-pieces to tickle our funnybones. There are still some cartoonish supporting characters, but the story itself, concerning a lawsuit over a miscarriage that may have been caused by an organic milk product, is serious and delicately handled. It's almost as if, having tested the waters in Money Wanders, Dezenhall (himself a crisis-management expert) has decided to plunge into the deep end. Highly recommended for fans of the first book and for those who like their comic mysteries to possess serious undercurrents. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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It is possible that those that did not grow up within a certain distance of the Benjamin Franklin bridge may find some of the characters that Dezenhall has cooked-up to be somewhat over the top, but having come of age in crazy, class-and-ethnicity-obsessed South Jersey, I can vouch for the authenticity of even the most outrageous of these characters (the disgraced plastic surgeon, the obese mobster (wanabee) and the flamboyant queen with a gift for inventing the most absurd nicknames stand-out among some of the more hilarious and twisted characters). Make no mistake, no matter how clever (and sometimes diabolical) Dezenhall's improvisations, the real craft here is careful observation.
But there is much more to Jackie Disaster than just detailed description and belly-laughs. Dezenhall is also able to immerse the reader in a complex and highly nuanced world, where even slight gradations in social class and economic fortunes explain more about the behavior of adults (and, sadly, some children) than any amount of psycho-sexual Freudian theory could ever hope to explain. Dezenhall's trick is to give us enough of the social, economic and religious background of the characters and their environment so that we understand the motivations of the characters as they begin to unravel, without once slowing the down the juggernaut of his plot.
As with many of the best episodes of the Sopranos, Dezenhall knows that what draws in the audience is not simply a string of incredibly brutal acts of the protagonists, but that they live among us in a parallel universe with its own complex moral hierarchy - a code of ethics that allows them to sit next to us and participate at PTA meetings, while at the same time truly believing that murder and mayhem are acceptable (and even just) punishments for not showing the proper "respect" for a small-minded thug who oversees the crimes of other, smaller-minded thugs. Just describing the acts is never enough - you need to see the characters go through their normal routines and have (for them) normal conversations with their peers in order to recognize how deep the evil really runs.
And then there is the plot. It may be that Eric Dezenhall created an entirely new genre - the "public relations/crisis management thriller" - with his first book. In Jackie Disaster, he again gives us a two-layered view of the crisis-management game that keeps us flipping the pages; the high-level strategic and public opinion angle, as well as the street-smart capers that one sometimes needs to employ when the other guys just won't "play by the rules".
It strikes me that this book is required reading for any CEO of a public company in the post-Enron era, where the public now has real-life "proof" that nobody gets rich without cheating, and catching the fat cat with his (or her) hand in the cookie jar is just a matter of time (and the right "crusading" activist or journalist).
I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Jackie Disaster to anyone who suspects that there is more to the news than facts, and more to New Jersey than a turnpike.
Millionaire Sally Naturale hires Jackie Disaster and associates to restore her and her firm's reputation. Murrin Connolly filed a lawsuit claiming that the organic soymilk that Sally's company produces caused her to miscarry. Expert Jonah Eastman suggests a two front attack. First Jackie Disaster and team need to destroy the credibility of Murrin with a negative dirt smearing campaign and second Sally must act contrite in public as a counter to her posh upper crust living style. Instead of smooth sailing, Jackie lives up to his nickname as nothing goes right especially when Sally vanishes. Jackie and the Imps begin a new counteroffensive.
JACKIE DISASTER is a superb satire that showcases a professional who uses any means including dirty tricks to provide counter cover for the rich and famous. The story line stuns the audience with its relative simplicity that paints a dirty image making game by the in crowd to protect their reputation. A cast, starting with the antihero and his cohorts including his father, niece, girlfriend, and new client make for a wild ride down the Jersey shore. To protect the image of Eric Dezenhall, a sequel is required.
First of all, his charaterization of Atlatnic City casinos is totally incorrect. He has a mobster owning an AC casino, something that would NEVER happnen in the 25 years of legal gambling in AC. It just can't happen because the regulations are so tight. And the hero, Jackie, is a consultant who has full run of the casino where he works. Again, would NEVER happen. Early in the book Jackie and his cohorts grill a woman in the "Hellivator," a specially adapted elevator to pressure cheaters. What an imagaination! It would NEVER happen.
But OK, for arguement's sake, let's give him some literary license.
The hero, Jackie, is an Italian American who supposedly has a problem early in the book with the "stereotype" of the Wop. But a few pages later, he makes fun of an Italian American who graduated college and is the casino's COO because this gentleman forgot how close he is to Siciily. You can't have it both ways.
And his introduction of characters (all of whom have the typical "mob" nicknames, another inconsistency for someone who doesn't like sterotypes) is like a shotgun. He tries to out-Elmore Leonard Elmore Leonard, and fails miserably.
An extremely disappointing book and for anyone familiar with the South Jersey/Atlantic City area, his errors are unforgivable. And spell check would have indeed helped.
Pass this one by.