Plot: This excellent work of crime fiction offers a rich setup and an even richer setting. 1950s Las Vegas hums on the page as Massimo “Max” Rossi (the reluctant son of a mobster) finds himself embroiled in—and a suspect in—the murder of a Chicago hitman.
Prose: Papa writes in a clipped, polished prose that perfectly captures the spirit of the hardboiled genre. Descriptions are crisply matter-of-fact, while simultaneously cinematic in effect.
Originality: This rollicking crime novel pays clear homage to such writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (as the author acknowledges), without coming across as derivative. While the notion of a PI with a shady past is familiar, Papa’s approach is wholly fresh and eminently readable.
Character/Execution: As the son of a mob boss eager to leave the family business, Rossi is a layered character with rough edges and a conscience. A host of colorfully monikered side characters populate the narrative, and Papa humanizes even the most archetypal of players.
Date Submitted: August 06, 2020
Papa, whose previous work includes two Vegas travel guides, makes good use of what he knows about the city. He plausibly recreates the feel of Las Vegas in the 1950s without anything feeling forced, anachronistic, or used to foreshadow future events. He also does a good job of balancing nicely noirish prose (from the opening sentence, “I was two eggs into a three-egg omelet when my breakfast was interrupted by a man who slid into my booth across the table from me”) with gradually and effortlessly supplying Rossi’s backstory.
The premise of a mob-affiliated man turning PI may not be original, but Papa puts his own spin on it. The action scenes are tightly written and avoid clichés, coming across as fresh and novel in a genre where that is no small achievement. The occasional poetic flourishes, as when Papa describes a character moving “with a certain resistance—a man who didn’t want to get where he was going,” add an extra layer to the narrative. Rossi’s guilt about the unexpected consequences of an effort to be generous comes across as sincere and heart-felt. This is an excellent hard-boiled mystery: cleverly written, smoothly paced, and with a protagonist who’s compelling enough to sustain a series.
Takeaway: Fans of old-fashioned crime fiction will be delighted by Papa’s outstanding debut, featuring a kind-hearted mobster turned PI in a perfectly described 1950s Las Vegas.
Great for fans of Loren D. Estleman, Martha Grimes.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B-