**Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher for the intent of an honest review. Sending me a novel will, under no circumstances, win the author a glowing review. It WILL win an honest one IF I like the novel enough to finish it, which sometimes doesn’t happen. **
In 1919, the National Prohibition Act was passed, making it illegal across America to produce, distribute, or sell liquor. With this act, the U.S. Congress also created organized crime as we know it. Italian, Jewish, and Irish mobs sprang up to supply the suddenly illegal commodity to the millions of people still eager to drink it. Men like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz and Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone in Chicago and Nucky Johnson in Atlantic City, waged a brutal war for power in the streets and on the waterfronts. But if you think you already know this story…think again, since you’ve never seen it through the eyes of one of the mobsters who lived it.
Called “one of the most significant organized crime figures in the United States” by the U.S. District Attorney, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo was just 15 years old when Prohibition became law. Over the next decade, Alo would work side by side with Lansky and Luciano as they navigated the brutal underworld of bootlegging, thievery and murder. Alo’s later career included prison time and the ultimate Mob tribute: being immortalized as “Johnny Ola” in The Godfather, Part II.
Introduced to the 91-year-old Alo living in retirement in Florida, Dylan Struzan based this book on more than 50 hours of recorded testimony–stories Alo had never shared, and that he forbid her to publish until “after I’m gone.” Alo died, peacefully, two months short of his 97th birthday. And now his stories–bracing and violent, full of intrigue and betrayal, hunger and hubris–can finally be told.
As far as I’m concerned, the years directly before and after prohibition and the events leading up to and following prohibition are the most interesting in American history. There’s no mystery why there are so many books and movies written to take place in that time period. Obviously, those were hard times. But, no matter how much I learn about those years and the people who lived them, I am always more than willing to learn more and experience more–even through the mediums of fiction and art.
I can only imagine the things Struzan learned while researching for A Bloody Business. And, what a telling title, too! Being released 100 years after the National Prohibition Act was passed was a happy coincidence, right? But, getting down to the grit of this review, I feel like I should warn you–the book is not what you might expect. It is less story, more historical account, but it isn’t as seamless as most would like it to be.
First, as most readers of historical novels would expect, there is language used within the text in both speech and expression that is unique to that era. There are lines like “Old Bill Rockafeller was a flimflammer,” tucked in here and there, which really made me think my granddad may have been telling me the story. I don’t mean that to be a negative, either, but it does take some getting used to at first if you don’t read a lot of stories from this time period.
I’m not sure if I should even mention characterization since Dylan Struzan actually met with a man who was called “one of the most significant organized crime figures in the United States” and listened to more than 50 hours of recorded testimony (see blurb above). I think she knocked it right out of the park. I think Dylan Struzan knew, probably within a week or two of research, exactly how her characters operated, what drove them to be the way they were, and got everything perfect, from mannerisms to thoughts, within the first few pages of a rough draft. I could be wrong, but I suspect I’m not.
There were bits of story here and there I feel could have been cut out during her first few rounds of edits and revisions, but those pieces are iffy, meaning they could have stayed or gone and nobody would have been the wiser. Usually in that case, a writer would cut those bits, but sometimes they get left and it doesn’t really change anything. It just takes a reader longer to read the story. Obviously, that can sometimes lead a reader to get bored and walk away and, because of this, I would urge the author to think about this next time she sits down to revise a novel. It’s not a deal breaker–but, it’s a slippery slope leading toward boredom.
I feel it worth noting, however, that the plot itself is little more than prohibition and organized crime itself. As a historical account, I feel like the story was delivered in an informal way (obviously), but an effective delivery was certainly given. After a few pages, you can imagine how Dylan Struzan may have felt whilst giving her interview of Alo. Maybe he said something like, “Well, ya see, what happened was…” and she began her notes. Probably not, but it’s very easy to imagine the story having formed that way. It certainly isn’t what I might call a campfire tale, but it bridges the gap between today’s more technologically advanced generations and the generation that our great grandparents grew up in. There are themes expressed that we can all relate to.