Penzler Pick, June 2001:
It has been nearly four years since Thomas Kelly's first novel, Payback
, was published. Although the wait has been long, it has been worth it. Kelly is meticulous in his depictions of how New York works politically, whether he's describing the labor unions, contractors, or the machinations of Gracie Mansion. And, as a former construction worker and Teamster who once worked for the mayor of New York, he knows what he's talking about.
The Rackets begins with Jimmy Dolan, the advance man for New York's mayor, knocking down Teamster boss Frankie Keefe at Gracie Mansion. Jimmy's dad, Mike, is running against Keefe for the union's top job, and when Keefe makes a smart remark about that, Jimmy can't help himself. The Mayor, who seems to resemble the present mayor of New York City, fires Jimmy, who finds himself returning to his roots in working class Inwood, where he is reunited with an old girlfriend, police officer Tara O'Neil, and an old high school friend, Liam, a veteran of the Gulf War. Jimmy is soon back in the life he thought he had left behind, trying to help his father break the grip that organized crime has on the union.
While working for the mayor, Jimmy has been able to convince himself that his life has changed, that his hands are clean and his collar white, but back in Inwood he realizes that crime and corruption reach high into the administration, and when tragedy strikes he will once again be in the union halls and skyscrapers of Manhattan, sharing space with the racketeers, mobsters, and killers who affect the city's political life.
A spot-on picture of how a great city works, coupled with great writing, make reading Kelly a pleasure. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.