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Jack Rinaldi is a cautious young man. His father was a charming rogue who lived on the edges of organized crime who failed far more often than he succeeded. When Jack discovers a letter his father wrote him just before he died, six years ago, it turns his life upside down. The letter tells of a cache of stolen money his father left behind, leading his reluctant son on a search that takes him from New York City to Las Vegas and ultimately to the south of France. Along the way, Jack is confronted by dangerous mobsters, dishonest relatives, suspicious friends, a mysterious woman and the perils of a journey his father may or may not have planned for him. In the end, he locates an elderly man his father had known many years before, who helps to not only solve the puzzle of the missing loot, but also the mystery of his relationship with his father.
PenCraft Awards First Place Winner

Author Jeffrey S. Stephens has another captivating novel in FOOL’S ERRAND. Told in the first person by the son of Blackie Rinaldi, the storyteller is a young, single, advertising executive who recounts this gripping and humorous tale of family secrets through recalled stories of family dynamics. The author sets the scene through flashbacks of this large, picturesque, extended immigrant family in New York City grappling with identity and survival. The storyteller relates how, six years after his father's death, he receives a box of papers and mementos from his mother. which includes a letter written to him dated only months before Blackie was killed in an auto accident. His father died, leaving a mysterious legacy of a purported treasure he claims to hold the secret of a "bigger deal since the building of the Suez Canal". Blackie was “a mass of paradoxes”. He was a war veteran who made a decent living as a salesman but supplemented his income through illegal means. He was loud, gruff, and an opinionated gangster. A tough guy. An alcoholic. A dreamer.

Defying his uncle, and others, his son sets out to find this treasure but soon discovers he is entangled in a web of secrets. He begins to chase his father's fantasies for clues to the puzzle. He sets out from New York City to Las Vegas, then to France to pursue his father's dream. Along the journey, he acquires a love interest as well as a trail of mob members who are also interested in the whereabouts of the treasure. As the storyteller completes his journey of intrigue, he learns more of his father's dangerous past and a decades-old mystery, while learning a lot about himself and his family.

Stephen's ability to present his characters as real people is evident. For instance, "Benny was shorter…, a cherubic guy with a round face, very little hair, a dark complexion, and an easygoing manner belied only by his reptilian gaze. His round chubby cheeks puffed up like one of those sculptures that symbolize the winds of summer and winter. Without his usual scowl, he could be a cuddly bear on a children's show.” Other characters are as colorfully presented. It's Stephens' hard-jawed characters, with their tough talk and scarred souls, who really make the tale come to life.

This novel is a haunting tribute to a misunderstood father in a dysfunctional, highly emotional family. Complexities of family dynamics, secrets, and lies are shared with humor. There are unforeseen consequences for all involved as they struggle with the advice, "great wealth or great difficulty."

In conclusion, our hero learns a lesson from the past: Blackie always said, "Straight shooters always win." FOOL’S ERRAND is a book filled with unforgettable characters and a tension that heightens with every chapter.  Jeffrey S. Stephens writes with exceptional skill and eloquence. He is undoubtedly an author you should take note of.