Here's the title character after his wife throws a hairbrush at him for singing opera in their hotel room:
“`What the fuck?'
“`I’ve been calling to you for five minutes!' Lisa Pellecchia yelled. `From the shower. In the bathroom. Five minutes!'
“`I was listening to something,' Charlie said. He was still trying to reach the painful spot on his back. `That hurt, damn it.'
“He flexed both his biceps in the mirror and quickly dropped his arms when he heard his wife in the bathroom. When he thought he was safe again, he looked into the mirror and whispered, `Figaro, Figaro... Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Fi-ga-ro.'”
That's marvelous, but Stella turns down the jokes when Charlie gets into deep trouble later in the book, and he paces the storytelling so nicely that I was barely conscious of the change in tone as it was happening.
Stella has characters say outlandish things without ever seeming to be aware of their own outlandishness, which adds to the fun. He also manages to tell a story of operatic complexity without ever losing the thread, alternating points of view in short chapters, the shifting viewpoints something like, I don't know, a series of arias.
Charlie surveys the Strip's tall buildings with respectful professional interest (he had previously run a window-washing company), and he acts heroically at unexpected times and calmly when many another protagonist might have gone nuts, thrown punches, or pulled guns. Charlie is one of the most endearing regular-guy protagonists who ever socked a mobster and wandered into the middle of gang strife and law-enforcement rivalries.
But he's Charlie Opera, after all, so the people who wind up dead in this book generally deserve it, a woman is rescued, and true love is rewarded, in the best opera buffa fashion.
(I'm not a brand-new Stella fan. His story "The Decider" is one of the highlights of Crime Factory: The First Shift, discussed in this space last week. But I'm telling you: In a couple of weeks I'll be talking about Charlie Stella as if I'd been reading him my whole life.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2011
Labels: Charlie Stella