Sixty-year-old Frank Machianno, best known these days as Frank the Bait Guy with his popular bait shop on Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego, has retired a shady past in pursuit of the legitimate business interests that bankroll his comfortable lifestyle. Or so he thinks, until the overcast afternoon on the pier when someone orders a hit on him.
Such contingencies planned for in advance, Frank goes on the run, not happily at this stage of his life, but with the caution that has defined his former career in the San Diego mob. The most pressing problem: who has ordered the hit and why? To that end, Frank considers a rogue’s gallery of nasty suspects, confounded that most have turned against him in self-interest.
No average opportunist or petty criminal, Frank falls into the criminal life after returning to San Diego from the service, trusted and loyal to his bosses, following a code of honor that excludes family members from harm. But Frank has never been a rat, so his dilemma doesn’t make sense. And now he can’t be sure his family is safe.
Life has been good to Frank, with the exception of a divorce and the estrangement from his daughter that he has recently begun to repair; still friends with ex-wife, a beautiful girlfriend fills the quiet nights. Only one man notices Frank’s disappearance and that of his ex and girlfriend: surfing buddy and soon-to-be-retired FBI agent Dave Hansen. Quietly, Hansen begins his own investigation of Frank’s recent activities, long aware of his friend’s ties to the mob.
One by one, Frank sorts through the hits, the crimes, the corruption, the hard men who have dictated his actions, men who expect the impossible and are never disappointed. Caution bred into his bones, Frank returns home prepared to face the next assault, second-generation hit men grown too soft and undisciplined to offer any challenge. Then the big guns weigh in, from Chicago and Detroit.
In an edge of the seat cat-and-mouse game, Frank steps into the past, revisiting people and places in an effort to jog lose the memory that has put his entire life at risk - the crime bosses, the hits, friends and foes - exposing San Diego mob activity and its ties to a wider network: “It’s about corruption, and corruption is cancer.”
Handicapped only by his age, Frank knows this territory well: double-dealing, cold-blooded assassinations, the corruption of government, personal betrayal, violence in pursuit of profit and power, a crime family harvesting the fruits of organized mayhem in southern California. A little worse for the wear and fully cognizant of his role in this predicament, Frank is brought to the brink to protect what is most dear to him, prepared to go out the way he lived his life - full throttle.
Yet another creation of Winslow’s particular genius, Frank Machianno, aka Frankie Machine, is a flawed yet entirely sympathetic protagonist, further fuel for America’s love affair with the mob. A family man who lives by a code of honor, Frank is a bad boy with a heart of gold. We want this guy to prevail, the past his mystique. Such heroes (or anti-heroes) portray the human condition, good trumping evil, the promise of happiness for anyone willing to take it. One of the last of a dying breed, Frank faces a changing world where the real criminals wear suits and haunt the halls of Washington: “They own the game and the game is fixed.”