I thoroughly enjoyed the first instalment of the life of Alex Cohen aka Fabian Mustard, which I read about in The Bowery Slugger, and as the story continues here, I think it gets even better!
At the end of the first book, we see Alex jumping on a train, escaping the Lower East Side – and possibly one or two enemies – to go and fight in the First World War. It would be expected that this second book in the series would open up on a battlefield somewhere while we watch Alex fight his way back home. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book opens with the war already over – except for the one that Alex is still fighting in his head. He’s returned home a broken man, a shadow of his former self. He cannot pick himself up out of the gutter … literally. He’s living on the streets, eating crusts of bread discarded by others, wearing rags, unsure of how to get his life back on track. But get it back he does! Alex Cohen is no quitter. He seeks out his old haunts and his old cohorts, and slowly climbs his way up the mob ladder of the East Side.
It’s a fascinating read that takes readers on a journey through 1920’s gangster-land, through prohibition, gang wars, vendettas and violence … a lot of violence! Alex is not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty. I loved how the author wove the story together to include well known names of that era: Al Capone, Bugsy (Benjamin) Segal. They live life on the edge and they know it. So do their families, but violence and danger aside, they live good lives.
This is such a good read! It’s racy and pacy, and Alex and all who he draws into his circle are permanently balancing on the knife-edge. That’s their choice, as they’re fond of saying: “We live together, we fight together, but you die alone.” Their lives are breath-taking and the wealth they accumulate is astounding … but it’s never enough and there’s always more to be gained, higher to climb. Despite the violence Alex is capable of, he’s a family man and when he walks through the door of his home he leaves that outside world behind him, focusing on his wife and children. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one that begs questions about psychological state of mind, psychosis and the like!
This is a great 4-star read! I do think there should be a glossary included as there are quite a few Yiddish expressions that might not be familiar to some readers. Although many of them have become used in everyday slang, there are still a few that might not be known. A glossary is always helpful. However, that said … all those terms thrown in do lend themselves to the atmosphere of the story and of the era, and they do a lot to show where Alex and his compatriots had come from and how they still held ‘home’ close to their hearts.
Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.
There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.
He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.
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