First line: "A New York City summer evening and Loretto Jones looked sharp in a dark blue and white pinstriped double breasted suit as he waited on the corner of East 107th Street, between 2nd and 3rd: Loretto, the house where the Blessed Virgin was born and where she ascended into heaven, a name pinned on him by the nuns at Mount Loretto Orphanage on Staten Island where he had been abandoned sometime before dawn twenty-one years earlier to the day, July 28, 1910."
Toughs opens with a drive-by shooting. Irish gangster, Vince Coll is attempting to take out Richie Cabo, but instead shoots children, one of whom dies. Loretto Jones was in the wrong place at the wrong time and Richie Cabo saw him, so he believes Loretto is in on the shooting. Coll's actions bring the wrath of the New York Police Department down on him as well as that of mobsters Dutch Schultz and Owen Madden. But Coll's determined to get a share in the illegal booze trade.
Left with few choices, Loretto joins Coll's gang and buckles in for the most dangerous ride of his life.
Ed Falco wrote Toughs based on historical events in Prohibition Era New York City. The authenticity of the time period reflects his thorough research, but it is the fictionalization of the characters and their relationships that makes this mob story so engrossing.
Loretto Jones is the focal character of the novel. His life's ambition isn't necessarily the path of a gangster, but he's attracted to the rush of adrenalin and--more than anything--the money. He's also attracted to Gina Baronti, the sister of fellow gangster, Mike Baronti. Loretto's conflict between doing the right thing and sticking with his gang is well developed. You, as the reader, hope and hope that Loretto will do the right thing and when he doesn't the anxiety rises because he's walking into a war zone.
Another fascinating character is Lottie Kriesberger. Lottie is Coll's girlfriend. She's a bit of a Lady MacBeth. Coll is by no means indecisive or weak, but Lottie has ambition and plans to use Coll to get where she wants to go. She loves him--or gets as close as she's capable to love--but she never loses site of her goals. Lottie is a character who might be viewed negatively because of this ambition, much the way Lady MacBeth was. However, she very much mirrors Coll's character and personality. But in a period when her gender limited her, she exhibits those characteristics the only way she can.
Toughs is a fascinating foray into a small segment of Depression-era New York. The atmosphere takes the reader into the speakeasies, homes and streets. The clothes, the music, the language, the smell of foods, it all comes alive and transports readers back. Falco includes the violence but not the gore. He takes readers far enough visually to engage their own imaginations and lets them do the rest. This is a book that dims the lights around you and allows you to get lost in another time and place, if only for a little while.
If you're a fan of gangster stories, great character-driven novels or period pieces, be sure to put Toughs on your reading list.
Toughs is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9781609531119) from Unbridled Books. To the best of my knowledge there isn't an audiobook version, but gosh would it be great in that format!