Ed Falco
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Buy *Toughs* by Ed Falcoonline

Ed Falco
Unbridled Books
480 pages
August 2014
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Set in Depression-era New York, Falco’s scenario begins with an ill-advised attempt to wipe out a rival member of a powerful crime Combine that controls bootlegging commerce. The assault meant to obliterate Ritchie Cabo leaves instead a trail of bodies, most of them children. The savagery of the attack draws public outrage, extensive coverage by the media, the authorities’ determination to make the gunmen pay, and the levying of a bounty on the head of the man responsible—Vince “Mad Dog” Coll. Though Prohibition has proven a cornucopia of criminal opportunity with millions in profit at stake, street toughs grown to power on the back of initiative and resourcefulness, the brutality of this lifestyle has left the city reeling from random violence accompanied by a cavalier attitude toward those caught in the crossfire.

From the day of the gun battle on 107th Street on July 28, 1931, when five-year-old Michael Vengelli loses his life, to Coll’s demise on February 8, 1932, Falco tracks the critical historical events, breathing life into this sordid history through his characters, the friends and family caught up in the unfolding drama and the bloody ending of the short reign of Vince Coll. This orphaned Irishman thought he could take on the big names of organized crime with impunity, take down their speakeasies and bootleg enterprises and force them to acknowledge his dominance in the crime world. Thumbing his nose at the establishment and Police Commissioner Edward P Mulrooney’s “shoot to kill” order (and contemptuous of the $50,000 bounty offered by Dutch Schultz and Owen Madden, not to mention a $30,000 reward offered by the Policemen’s Benevolent Society), Coll swaggers through the city he claims to own, oblivious to threat or consequence.

The character of Loretto Jones offers an intimate perspective on the world in which such events occur unchecked. A product of the same orphanage as Vince Coll, Loretto has always felt a bond with the man but is not a part of Coll’s gang nor aware of the battle that is about to begin with the shooting of children in lieu of thugs on 107th Street. Waiting to meet his best friend, Dom, the nephew of a crime boss connected to the Combine (of which Owen Manning is the head), Loretto is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He witnesses not only the shooting but also the men in the car: Vince Coll and other familiar figures from the neighborhood. When Ritchie Cabo, the subject of that attack, becomes obsessed with the belief that Loretto served as point man for Coll, Loretto’s life takes a turn that warps his future by association with Vince, pulling him into a lifestyle few survive.

While Coll’s actions portray the flamboyant excesses of young men grabbing for power through their guns, his contemporaries hopeless young men who dream of a chance for glory, Loretto vacillates on the cusp of respectability and a life of crime. Loretto is embraced by the Baronti family. Longtime friends with Augie, Freddie and Mike Baronti (who was in the car with Coll), Loretto quietly falls for divorced sister Gina. This connection with family and his yearning to belong pull Loretto away from Coll and the others. But his sense of loyalty to Vince draws him back over and over. His need to make enough money for a life with Gina puts Loretto at the heart of the mayhem, the moral ground shifting with events and the choices he must make.

The familiar names appear throughout the drama: Dutch Schultz, Charlie Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, all eventually forced to weigh in on the problem of “Mad Dog” Coll. As Coll’s enemies close in, from the cops, the FBI and rival gangs, the scenario comes to a crisis in a spectacular shootout, fate closing the chapter on a vicious killer with a final act of betrayal necessary to save the few worth rescuing from the stain of Coll’s twisted ambition.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2014

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