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A bare-knuckled novel set during a rigged union election in New York City.With The Rackets -- about construction workers and the mobsters who run their union -- Thomas Kelly, the most talented urban novelist to come along in a generation, cements his reputation as the heir to James T. Farrell and George V. Higgins.
After putting himself through college by working as a day laborer, Jimmy Dolan goes to work for a smug Republican mayor. When he tries to settle an old dispute with his fists, he finds himself out of a job -- and sought out by Frankie Keefe, the corrupt union boss he knocked to the carpet. Jimmy's saintly father is running against Keefe for the presidency of the teamsters, and when he is brutally forced out of the running, Jimmy must risk his life -- and that of his estranged girlfri, Tara, a New York policewoman -- to def the interests of the rank and file. The novel, set in the union halls, taverns, and half-built skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, depicts every shade of New York Irish -- as well as Italian mobsters, Russian killers, and a gun-running Gulf War veteran on disability. But The Rackets is also a vivid and affecting picture of the gritty uptown neighborhood of Inwood and the lives its residents have made for themselves. More than any writer working today, Kelly knows how the players in the city gain and maintain their power; from the ups and downs of the working class, he makes literature.
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Penzler Pick, June 2001: It has been nearly four years since Thomas Kelly's first novel, Payback, was published. Although the wait has been long, it has been worth it. Kelly is meticulous in his depictions of how New York works politically, whether he's describing the labor unions, contractors, or the machinations of Gracie Mansion. And, as a former construction worker and Teamster who once worked for the mayor of New York, he knows what he's talking about.
The Rackets begins with Jimmy Dolan, the advance man for New York's mayor, knocking down Teamster boss Frankie Keefe at Gracie Mansion. Jimmy's dad, Mike, is running against Keefe for the union's top job, and when Keefe makes a smart remark about that, Jimmy can't help himself. The Mayor, who seems to resemble the present mayor of New York City, fires Jimmy, who finds himself returning to his roots in working class Inwood, where he is reunited with an old girlfriend, police officer Tara O'Neil, and an old high school friend, Liam, a veteran of the Gulf War. Jimmy is soon back in the life he thought he had left behind, trying to help his father break the grip that organized crime has on the union.
While working for the mayor, Jimmy has been able to convince himself that his life has changed, that his hands are clean and his collar white, but back in Inwood he realizes that crime and corruption reach high into the administration, and when tragedy strikes he will once again be in the union halls and skyscrapers of Manhattan, sharing space with the racketeers, mobsters, and killers who affect the city's political life.
A spot-on picture of how a great city works, coupled with great writing, make reading Kelly a pleasure. --Otto PenzlerAbout the Author:
Thomas Kelly worked in construction, graduated from Fordham and Harvard, then served as director of advance for the Mayor of New York. A former Teamster, he writes for Esquire. His first novel, Payback, has been adapted by David Mamet for a feature film.
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