4 out of 4 stars
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Payback: Tales of Love, Hate, and Revenge is the second book in Steve Bassett’s Passaic River Trilogy. The first book in the series, Father Divine’s Bikes, was published in 2018. This second novel reunites the reader with Lieutenant Nick Cisco and Sergeant Kevin McCloskey of the homicide department in Newark, New Jersey.
The story opens in 1946. Lieutenant Cisco is a man with problems on his mind. As Acting Chief of the homicide division, he is responsible for working out the connection between three recent grisly murders. He and McCloskey work hard to establish that all three victims were active members of a pre-war organization with strong Nazi leanings. That’s the easy bit. Even tougher are the political aspects of the case that Cisco and McCloskey have to negotiate. Powerful businesses with strong Nazi links are cozying up to the federal government in an effort to distance themselves from past misdeeds; no one wants this wartime stuff raising its head again. As if that’s not enough, there are also gubernatorial and Attorney-General posts to be filled, with the result that a successful conclusion to the three murders becomes a very important issue to some top people. Amidst all this, Nick Cisco is trying to straighten out his complicated personal situation. He’s currently separated from his wife Connie as a result of his ongoing affair. Father Sullivan is trying to broker a reconciliation between husband and wife, but is that what either of them really wants?
This is an intelligent crime thriller in which the author places his fictional characters in the midst of some real-life historical events. There was, indeed, a sizeable pro-Nazi organization active in the New Jersey area in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War. This organization did set up and run Camps Siegfried, Bergwald, and Nordland, as outlined in this book. Also mentioned are the Newark Minutemen, a group of Jewish boxers who used violence to break up meetings of the Nazi sympathizers. The Minutemen were led by ex-boxer Nat Arno, who was backed by a local mafia boss, Longy Zwillman. Both these men rate a mention in the book. Other details in the novel also serve to establish its authentic tone; Kevin McCloskey’s interest in boxing, for example, sees him visiting what was, at the time, a major sporting venue in Laurel Garden, Newark, to watch the fights of men like Tippy Larkin and Abe Denner, prominent boxers in their day.
Aside from its historical accuracy, there is much to enjoy here. Readers who revel in old-school detective stories will find this ideal. The dialogue is short and sharp, containing the type of language one would expect from a bunch of Newark cops. This includes some pejorative names for racial groups, terms like ‘wops’, ‘micks’, and ‘krauts’. Black characters are referred to as ‘Negros’, which was also probably typical of the time. It is a story that recalls the novels of Raymond Chandler. Cisco and McCloskey are, like Chandler’s hero Philip Marlowe, hardened by years of policing the mean streets: ‘they had been seeing too much, and feeling less and less about the empty chaos that sucked them in’. Again like Marlowe, Cisco’s cynicism is counterbalanced by a more reflective side; hard-boiled detective he may be, but he is also someone who appreciates art, someone whose early ambitions were to work as a museum or gallery curator, not as a cop.
There is little that I disliked about the book. I thought, in places, that perhaps too much space was being given to supporting characters but that might also be because I was caught up in the main story and was impatient for the author to get back to that!
I am giving this book 4 out of 4 stars. It has been professionally edited, as I found only a handful of minor errors. The book will appeal to those who like rugged crime stories with an authentic edge to them. Though it is part of a trilogy, the novel works well as a standalone read. There are many references to sex and there is strong language throughout, so I think this book is for mature readers only.
Payback-Tales of Love, Hate and Revenge
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