Little Mexico
Cathie John
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Little Mexico

Cathie John
Journeybook Press, CC Publishing
258 pages
November 2000
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Newport, Kentucky, lies just across the river from Cincinnati. Now the home to thousands of law abiding citizens, it was once the gambling Mecca of America. Years before Las Vegas sprang up in the western desert, dozens of illegal casinos lined the Newport streets, most of them mom-and-pop establishments that catered to the needs of thousands of visitors each year. The casino trade was a lucrative one, and in the 1940's it attracted the attention of the Cleveland syndicate. Gangsters from across the river descended on the Curled Up With a Good Book town and forced many of the local owners to sell their businesses to the mob. Those who agreed were often left in charge of their casinos while those who resisted ended up crippled or dead. It was not the best of times for the riverside city nicknamed Little Mexico.

In this latest novel by author Cathie John, readers are transported back to 1943 and introduced to Carl and Pearl Jules, owners of a casino/supper club on the outskirts of Newport. The Jules' Oasis is one of the last successful "independents" in Little Mexico and a prime target of the Cleveland syndicate. The man pressuring the couple to sell is Bruno Carpella, an up and coming mob enforcer much feared for his vicious tactics. Despite the tension created by Carpella's take-over bid, the Jules are in a mood for celebration when sailor son Joey comes home on leave and brings with him fellow Navy man Nick Cavanaugh. Not only is Joey safely away from the war but he also provides a little extra muscle for the Jules' operation.

Unfortunately, all the muscle in the world can't save Carl Jules when a rain of bullets greets him late one night outside the casino. Desperately wounded, Carl slips into a coma. Now Pearl must not only take over the daily operation of the Oasis but also try to stop her son from avenging his father's shooting. Because the police are in the pocket of the mob, Pearl expects little help from them. Nick Cavanaugh, though, proves to be an exceptional friend of the family. Joey's buddy works overtime to keep his friend out of trouble. Unfortunately, he can't save Joey from the women in his life, especially one woman whose muddled feelings lead to attempted murder. In a stunning conclusion to the story, Pearl takes matters into her own hands to save both the Oasis and her family from the hands of a killer.

The husband/wife writing team of Cathie John has immortalized a piece of Americana in this well-researched book on the history of Newport, Kentucky. >From characters to setting, Little Mexico rings with authenticity. The Cleveland mob, headed by Sam Tucker, Moe Dalitz, Louis Rothkopf, and Morris Kleinman, existed just as portrayed in the book. Their interest in Newport has been recorded in numerous newspaper articles and in the files of the FBI. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy himself called for a crackdown on mob influence in the town in the early 1960's. Soon after his denouncement, a new political group came to power in Newport, and the Cleveland syndicate abandoned the town for easier pickings in Las Vegas.

Little Mexico is the first in an entertaining new series of historical mysteries by Cathie John. Future novels will continue the story of Newport and the struggle to stave off the godfathers of organized crime.

© 2002 by Mary V. Welk for Curled Up With a Good Book

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