Filler content with monkeys for pigs

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #9:-

Monkey in the Middle by Stephen Solomita
(Severn House paperback, 182pp, $10.99)

A man is murdered in the holy of holies to New Yorkers that is Macys, stabbed to death in the middle of a crowd of Christmas shoppers. It’s the latest in a series of assassinations of known associates of mobster Paulie ‘Margarine’ Marginella. Paulie is being blackmailed by a rival with an ace mercenary on his team, and then there are the police who are intent on solving the crime, but also have an agenda of their own, and how it all plays out is the spine of this book.

The flesh of the narrative though is to do with the three main characters who drive the plot and from whose individual perspectives we view events – Paulie, assassin for hire Leonard Carter and detective Solly Epstein.

Paulie is a family man, bemoaning the estrangement of his two children, who take his money but don’t want him as a part of their ‘straight’ life. He’s a man who needs to lash out at an enemy, but he doesn’t know who. Carter is an honest man by his own lights, devoted to his sister who is dying of cancer, even though she reviles him. He is a careful man, who always plans everything out, who takes no chances, and if you cross him then he will settle the score with you, believe it. And he has his suspicions that his employer is out to double cross him (no honour among former mercenaries). Epstein is also a family man, with a pregnant wife, and bitterly regretting the jam that he finds himself in (the revelation of Epstein’s predicament is one of the key surprises of the plot and a turning point in the narrative). Epstein wants a way out (all of these characters do, in their own way), but he can only find one at the cost of his self-respect.

Solomita’s writing wears its noir trappings lightly, with some telling phrases and all three characters well drawn, with distinctive traits and character signifiers. The book has some excellent twists and turns, and hanging over it all is a feeling of authenticity, that you are being privileged with a genuine look into the world of mobsters and hit men for hire, this is the way it is. Nothing glamorous, no outlaw panache, just business as usual, with deals being brokered and broken, winners and losers. Not so different from the ‘straight’ world really, except for the guns. Monkey in the Middle is not a classic of the crime genre, but it’s a competently written and entertaining novel from a writer who gives every evidence of knowing his stuff, and chances are you will have a good time with it.

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