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Posted January 13, 2004
Politics and Romance in Mid-Century Albany
The story of one man's immersion in a world of political and personal corruption, this novel follows the efforts of political operative Roscoe Conway to break free from the milieu in which he's spent his adult life: Albany politics. Mixing political shenanigans with Depression-era bootlegging and gangsterism, the story opens shortly after the end of World War II with our eponymous hero seeking a way out. But his buddies, Patsy McCall (the town's Democratic Party boss) and Elisha Fitzgibbon, a local blueblood and businessman, who, together with the shrewd Roscoe, make up the Democratic Party triumvirate that wields power in Albany, demand his continued attention. Patsy asks Roscoe to hang around a while longer and then Elisha goes and dies under suspect circumstances, sucking Roscoe back into the vortex of political maneuvering and personal feuds that define his world. As the Republican governor tries to get the goods on the Democratic party leaders and young Alex Fitzgibbon, son of Elisha, returns from the war (he'd volunteered to serve as a private in the infantry) to resume his old seat as Albany's mayor, things really heat up. State troopers are snooping around and trying to bust the shady establishments secretly operated by the Democratic chieftains even as Roscoe must try to avoid the whiff of scandal occasioned by Elisha's untimely demise. For Roscoe this is doubly hard since Elisha's widow is also Roscoe's first and, apparently, only true love. So while trying to figure out the secret behind Elisha's abrupt 'departure' from the world of Albany's living, Roscoe initiates a tentative courtship of the beautiful Veronica, Alex's mother, at the same time. Meanwhile Patsy and his brother Bindy have a falling out over some chickens (they are competitive devotees of cockfighting), which threatens to blow the Albany machine's operations wide open, leaving them prey to the holier-than-thou Republican governor (not mentioned by name but clearly Thomas E. Dewey). We follow Roscoe as he moves about the town meeting various players, trying to tamp down the problems that keep cropping up and to figure an angle that will enable the Democrats to hold onto power in the upcoming election, no matter what. For Roscoe voting fraud, public bluster and misrepresentation are all tools of the trade. And yet Roscoe is an endearing sort, somewhat overweight and clearly overly romantic, he pines for Veronica while he struggles to hold the rapidly unravelling strands of their lives together, even when Roscoe's former wife, Veronica's sister Pamela, returns to try to extort money from her lovely sibling. Could she be the reason Elisha, Veronica's husband and Roscoe's boyhood friend, took the final powder? The novel shows us these events through the somewhat hazy, and possibly less than completely reliable, eyes of the clever but world weary Roscoe as he seeks to retrieve his life in one final chance to do more with it than scheme and manipulate votes in the backrooms of Albany. Enjoyable and sharply written, this book faltered about halfway through but picked up again and carried me through to the end. I was, however, a little disappointed by the denouement but the book, on balance, was plainly worth the read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.