The Accidental Pallbearer: An Eliot Conte Mystery

The Accidental Pallbearer: An Eliot Conte Mystery

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by Frank Lentricchia

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Introducing a gritty new detective series set in the bleak hinterlands of upstate new York

Washed-up private investigator Eliot Conte would rather be teaching American literature and listening to opera than taking pictures of spouses in flagrante delicto. But he flamed out of an academic career when he hung the Provost of UCLA out a window, and he had to


Introducing a gritty new detective series set in the bleak hinterlands of upstate new York

Washed-up private investigator Eliot Conte would rather be teaching American literature and listening to opera than taking pictures of spouses in flagrante delicto. But he flamed out of an academic career when he hung the Provost of UCLA out a window, and he had to come home --- to bleak Utica, New York, where his aging father, Silvio Conte, a political kingmaker, is still cutting deals and hustling appointments, and his all-but-in-blood brother Antonio Robinson is the city's first black Chief of Police.

But now Antonio's asking him for a favor that, to Eliot, doesn't seem like the kind of thing a police chief should ask for ... especially as he begins to uncover a trail of evidence leading back to the most sensational hit in local Mafia history. In a Utica marked by economic devastation and racial tensions, Eliot picks up one strand after another, weaving his way through a web of allegiances, grudges, and his own dark demons. Who is the spider at the center of it all?

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Richard Lipez
…features a PI who's part Mike Hammer and part William S. Burroughs. He's an interesting mix of violent moralism and lit-major depravity, and it all sort of works. What's certain is that Utica, New York's Eliot Conte is an instant original…It's an often poignant and sometimes devastating portrait of a nearly ruined small American city where people end up doing bad things to survive or to keep a way of life alive. Lentricchia writes that Conte "is a tribalist of southern Italian background for whom loyalty to one's family and friends trumps morality and (goes without saying) the law." There are echoes of Mario Puzo in The Accidental Pallbearer and of Vittorio de Sica's film The Bicycle Thief, too.
Publishers Weekly
Near the outset of this uneven first in a new crime series from Lentricchia (The Book of Ruth), Utica, N.Y., PI Eliot Conte, son of a New York State political kingmaker, tells his oldest friend, Antonio Robinson, he’s recently learned that the police suspect his ex-wife, Nancy, is the one who bludgeoned their two daughters to death in Laguna Beach, Calif., apparently following through on a threat to get back at him. Robinson, who landed the position of Utica police chief through the elder Conte’s influence, suggests that killing Nancy is the appropriate next step, but Conte feels nothing in the face of this devastating news. Of more concern is pursuing a man Conte will soon witness abusing his baby daughter on a train. Lentricchia, dubbed the “Dirty Harry of literary criticism” by the Village Voice, does a good job of depicting the quotidian nature of most PI work, but the plot starts out stronger than it finishes. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Deirdre Mullane Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Frank Lentricchia’s new novel ranks as entertainment of a high order – funny, fast-moving and hot-blooded. It’s also the kind of novel that will appeal to readers who like their fiction to carry depth and range.” –Don DeLillo

"Bravissimo!" —Lisa Scottoline

"The Accidental Pallbearer is a brilliant piece of fiction, and a page turner to boot, able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best writing in America today." --Jay Parini

"The Accidental Pallbearer deserves to be read alongside the best literary detective fiction of our time. Lentricchia's protagonist is the anti-hero par excellence - you can't put him down, either physically or emotionally - whose only equal is Fabio Montale from the great Marseilles trilogy by Jean-Claude Izzo." --John R. MacArthur, publisher, Harper's

“Vivid and unnerving … Eliot Conte is an instant original.” — The Washington Post

”Lentricchia captures the feel of upstate New York (Richard Russo territory) and of Italian American culture within a familiar genre, with predictable grit and wit. We hope to see more of Conte and perhaps of his promising romantic interest, a Troy policewoman.” – Booklist

“There’s a Quentin Tarantino masculinity to this story of a private investigator known for solving knotty problems in not-quite-lawful ways.” –The Charlotte Observer

“More than a thriller … Lentricchia’s prose soars…” — The Raleigh-Durham Herald-Sun

“Lentricchia’s latest work, in my opinion his finest, certainly the one most accessible to a wide audience, is entitled “The Accidental Pallbearer,” a detective-crime-Mafioso novel set in Utica, full of bits and pieces of authentic Utica history, altered and molded into a totally fictional story that is fast-paced and thrilling, scene after scene. It has the hard-bitten diction and action of “Film Noir” (and I do believe it is destined to be made into a film). Central to the novel is the conflict of family loyalty versus family disintegration that makes the best of Italian-American fiction so riveting.” — The Union Observer Dispatch

Praise for The Knifemen and Johnny Critelli

"[Scenes that are] somber or funny or lose-your-lunch ugly....The sabotage and sadness are real, and the language out of the streets and kitchens and bedrooms is obscenely authentic." --Entertainment Weekly

"Lentricchia has fashioned two short novels that display a rousing capacity for language and a gritty sense of the contemporary male mind." --Publishers Weekly

“Brutal and uncompromising, brilliant and desperate.” —Rolling Stone

“Original and lively. . . Frank Lentricchia is that rare thing, a professor of English with writing talent.” —Frank Kermode

Library Journal
This series debut by the author of The Book of Ruth and The Italian Actress is a high-art frenetic novel laced with black humor, one-liners, puns, guns, Mafia assassinations, crooked police, and the closely linked issues of loyalty and betrayal. The dissolute antihero Eliot Conte was once an academic until he dangled UCLA’s provost out a window. Most professors are similarly inclined but show self-control. Returning home to bleak Utica, NY, he has become an equally unorthodox PI. When Eliot’s highly unlikely blood brother, Antonio Robinson, Utica’s corrupt black chief of police, enlists him to neutralize his deputy chief, Eliot’s investigation uncovers links to the 15-year-old case of a mob assassination carried out by a last-minute replacement pallbearer (anything but accidental!). Eliot is already running a personal probe of a train passenger he witnessed assaulting the passenger’s own child. The two cases are linked, of course, in true noir fashion. Conte is a cad, but his actions are guided by a moral compass, no matter how skewed.

Verdict The terrific writing, clever plots, bleak humor, and colorful characters recommend this to fans of gritty noir crime fiction.—Seamus Scanlon, Ctr. for Worker Education, CUNY

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
Melville International Crime
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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File size:
2 MB

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Meet the Author

FRANK LENTRICCHIA was raised in Utica, New York, to working class, first generation Italian-American parents. A chaired professor of literature at Duke University, he is the author of several highly acclaimed and often controversial critical studies; novels, including Johnny Critelli and The Knifemen; and a memoir, The Edge of Night.

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The Accidental Pallbearer 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What better setting for gritty crime writing than the broken down middle-American wasteland of upstate New York? This book is funny, dark, and has real chops.