Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why Charlie Stella is my favorite American crime writer, Part I

Charlie Stella is an author who he writes something, I read it. Why? In part because of sequences like this, from Shakedown:
"`Let's go,' DeNafria said. `Maybe I can get him to spill something on his expensive threads.' ...

"It took a few minutes before Quastifarre was holding onto a frankfurter loaded with onions and mustard. DeNafria called to him just before the gangster took a bite.

 "`Hey, Joe Quack!' he yelled. `Joe!'

 "Quastifarre turned too quickly and spilled a combination of mustard and onions onto his shirt. He slapped at it with his free hand and wound up smearing some onto the waist of his pants.

"`Motherfucker!' he said through clenched teeth."
A good part of the texture of a novel comes from the bits between the main action, and no one does those bits better than Charlie Stella; the man is a fine comic writer.

But Shakedown, perhaps more than the five novels of Stella's I'd read previously, is a serious look at character and characters in the low- and mid-level mob world. Think Stella mines violence for cheap, morally objectionable laughs? Follow the character arc of mob hangaround John Forzino through Shakedown.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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27 Comments:

Blogger verymessi said...

I am a big fan of Stella also. Just finishing "Charlie Opera" His blog is also very good and often very funny. I thought his take on the sock puppet stuff was on point.

Barca already 8 points clear of Madrid! There will be justice for last year.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just took a look at his blog. His stand on sock puppets is a lot easier to take than Joe Konrath's even though they make similar points. I've read six of Charlie Stella's novel, enjoyed all, and written about most. Look up some of my old Charlie Stella posts.

You mean Barcelona fans' long wait for success may finally be over?

September 16, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Ha!! We just expect to win given the last four years. 14 out of a possible 19 championships will do that.

Read Stella's views on the nature of both political parties in the USA. Very similar to mine, though he does not offer a solution that I have seen. I have not read all of his blog posts so I may have missed it. I only found his blog about a month or so ago.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

Stella is the good. No one captures life in the mob as well as he does. His newest, rough riders, is a bit of a departure, but just as good.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

VM, his blog posts are worth reading even though he does not permit comments. I can blame him. With the zest of his opinions, he could easily blog all day and have no time to write books.

Years ago, someone said that rooting for the New York Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel (You can tell that's an old quip.) Barcelona's recent success brings that to mind.



September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, is "Rough Riders" the North Dakota book? I haven't read that yet or "Mafiya."

"Shakedown" may be my favorite of his novels so far because it has all the humor and some stark, non-melodramatic seriousness, with Forzino.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

Grazie, all of you. More than kind ... Is Barcelona the New York State Buffalo Bills of Spain (or am I in the wrong country)?

This has been an epic day at casa stella. Dana pointed me here, the Bills won, the Choketriots lost, the Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets lost and I only gained 5 pounds this weekend.

Go Bills!

September 16, 2012  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Yes, Peter, Rough Riders is the North Dakota book. But being that close to Saskatchewan maybe it should be Roughriders....

Charlie is a fellow Bills fan, about as opposite of the Yankees and Barca as you can get. But we had a good day today.

I haven't read Rough Riders yet, so that means Johnny Porno is still my favourite, probably because of the tenderness of the love story.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Charlie: No, Barcelona is more like the the Joe Montana-era 49ers of Spain. I lived in Boston for years, so let's not discuss football.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John: Guess what I city I'm in as I write this. One clue: I ate a really good bagel today.

Even when I lived in Canada, I could never remember which were the Rough Riders and which the Roughriders. Sadly, today's young football fans would look at me like I was crazy if they heard me say that.

That's an interesting reason you gave for preferring Johnny Porno. I have a friend, a discerning reader of crime fiction with excellent taste, who is, nonetheless, dubious about whether humor and crime writing can go together (though she likes Allan Guthrie as well as Ken Bruen's Brant novels, so go figure.) Anyhow, I'd show her Forzino's character arc in Shakedown as well as the love stories in several of the books as evidence that humor and crime can mesh very nicely.

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, I've been reading a bit of Harvey Pekar and Les Roberts in preparation for visiting Cleveland. Each make it a point of writing about the city's sports teams, though Pekar was more Indians, and Roberts is more Browns.

September 17, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

hi Peter,

Well i am a yankee fan too!!

At least with Barca their success is based on the youth system. 10 out of the regular starting 12 were from La Masia, and the team payroll at Barca is around 85 million compared to say Real Madrid at over 300 million.

So barca's success is directly related to good managment and training in their youth academy.

September 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I admit that, based on what little I know about international football, that Barca is the opposite of the leading English clubs, who load up with stars from abroad and make tons of money in the Premier League and Champions' League while the national team sucks in international competition.

September 17, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Well yes...the barca way is different than most teams, not just the English Premier league teams. barca has the highest percentage of youth team players on its roster than any other team in European football. I think Bayern Munich was second but still way below Barca. Many teams try to copy them but for whatever reason it does it seem to work as well.

And its starting 11 not12 as I wrote above. Did not see my typo first time around.

September 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I know Bayern Munich has a fine record of success in German football. The whole youth academy system is utterly foreign to American team sports and fascinating to me. I can well imagine that that and the system of relegation and promotion makes fans feel especially close to their teams. I can also imagine Sky TV, Rupert Murdoch, and the Premiere League as threats to that closeness.

September 17, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...


Recent post on TotalBarca....

http://www.totalbarca.com/2012/news/picture-of-the-day-homegrown-talent/

September 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I saw Louis van Gaal's name in a comment on the post. The relationship between between Dutch soccer and Barcelona is also interesting. Lots of big Dutch names have been associated with the club, and I think I read somewhere that Johan Cruyff was the first or one of the first to suggest the idea of a youth academy.

September 18, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

You are correct about Cruyff. He is considered the godfather of the Barcelona style of play and yes he was responsible for the adoption of the youth system.

Barca plays what was once called "total football" which was introduced to the world by the great Dutch teams of the early 70's which Cruyff was the captain of until he quit the team. The short passing ball control game known now as "tiki taka" is all from Cruyff's time as manager of Barcelona.

Then Spanish national team plays the same style of ball control. Often Spain and Barcelona have 70 percent possession stats at the end of the game. The idea being that it is very hard for the opponent to score when they don't have the ball.

September 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I happened to be in the Netherlands when Rinus Michels died, and around World Cup time two years ago, I read Burnt Orange. So, while I'm not sure I understand or agree with the book's theories about why Dutch teams have played the way they do, I understand some small bit about Dutch football.

September 18, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Well Michels is the the first one to put forward the concept of "total football" He was the coach of those great Dutch teams of the 70 and Ajax which won the European Cup a couple times,I think, also in the early 70's.

If I remember correctly, Michels came to the US with Cruyff in the late 70's and coached the Washington team in the old NASL.

I had season tickets for the NY Cosmos and saw Cruyff play. He actualy played one game for the Cosmos when the Cosmos played the World AllStars after the 1978 World Cup at Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. He was the best player on the field. Certainly one of the greatest players of all time regardless of his not winning a World Cup which should not really matter in my opinion.

September 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had a Dutch girlfriend at the time and happened to be visiting her when Rinus Michels died. She was no sports fan, and even she was talking about him. That's how I knew he must have been a big deal.

September 21, 2012  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

Listen to me: How's this for some Johan Cruyff trivia ... I was on my first honeymoon (35 friggin' years ago, oy vey) in Amsterdam when I first learned of him (they played some song on the radio about him over there almost all day) ... my first wife's family was Dutch and her great uncle filled me in. My kind of political system, by the way.

Comments on blogs ... you nailed it Peter. I'd never have time to write (or eat) anything if I even attempted to answer all the comments I'd draw (and especially because I'm kind of off-the-beaten path ... and a royal pain in the ass).

I do haunt a conservative site almost daily (where I comment and draw counterfire) and it's as much fun as it is frustrating. I'm known as captain cannoli over there (the Plutonian pinko commmi) ... but they really LOVE me :)

To be fair, I've pissed off democratic blogs with equal extreme prejudice ... for one thing, I'm no fan of Obama at all ... but I hate the idea of Ayn Randers getting anywhere near control.

As to resolutions to problems. I'm not a believe in capitalism, so until we have a hybrid of it and some major political shifts regarding government structure (the elimination of inherent corruption and representation of the 1% only), all I get to do is bark into the wind (because it won't happen in my lifetime). I've been on many different sides of the political coin through the years (always very liberal socially but I fell for the Iraq bullshit and was sick of Democrats acting like Republicans in the white house) (i.e., Clinton and now Obama (he's Bush on steriods to me). I would now opt for anarchy if it was remotely possible (it isn't) ... so barking it is ...

Mets fan here, although I'm so sickened by MLB, I could care less who wins what in that dopey tournament they've configured (i'm a dinosaur) ... so long as it isn't the Skankies.

I LOVE to play Strat-O-Matic but don't have the time ... I will when I'm in a nursing home (or jail). I'll be the President of a league inside ... the grand high exalted mystic ruler ... they'll be NO designated hitters or juiced baseballs or new ballparks or batting T's ... I might allow cheerleaders, but that's about it.

Go Bills!

Even though last week was probably our last win for a few months ...

September 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not that I'm at work or anything, but I can't comment at sufficent length at the moment. For now:

1) Yikes, that's a tought stretch of six games your Bills have coming up.
2) I was a Strat-O-Matic nut as a kid. When I become commissioner of the nursing home league, Melky Cabrera qualifies for the batting title.

September 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought at first Paul Ryan would worry Democrats--man of ideas, and all. But I get the idea that Ayn Randers' ideas consist of taking the ideological certainty of a middle-class college sophomore and maintaining it into adulthood

September 27, 2012  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

Ryan/Rand ... scary friggin' duet ... seeing him have to flee Randism because of his religious "beliefs" was pretty neat, but knowing he had forced his staff to read Atlas Shrugged (cruel and unusual punishment) suggests he's friggin' nuts.

Peter a Choketriot fan? Oh, lord, I got it wrong in my hat tip to your kindness and glob this fine Friday. Assumed Philly/Dog killers ...

http://temporaryknucksline.blogspot.com/2012/09/peter-rosovskys-blog-oy-vey-replacement.html

September 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm with you on Ryan again. To make one's staff read any book...or has he denied yet that he did that?

And why would you be shocked that the NFL thinks it can change reality? These are the folks who snap their fingers and -poof!- the expansion Cleveland Browns and the old Cleveland Browns are the same team!

I'm not exactly a Patriots fan. I'm from Montreal and, for my adult life in Boston and Philadelphia, I've generally hoped the local teams don't win. That way I'm spared the spectacle of drunks using a championship as an excuse for mayhem (I know a guy whose car was overturned after the Phillies won the World Series, and I myself was stranded on a bus while morons smacked the sides.)

Most of these yahoos couldn't even tell you how many RBIs Chuck Klein had in 1930. But the worst is the local TV newscasters who balance the local team's caps on their carefully coiffed hair and refer to the team as "we."

I always root for the Canadiens to win, and I'd root for Montreal's baseball team, except Montreal doesn't have a baseball team anymore. (I was in Montreal a couple of weeks ago and was suprised and pleased to see Expos stuff in a store window in Old Montreal.) I once tentatively decided that ex-Expos fans should root for the Minnesota Twins because they're a small(er)-market team that would keep losing players and still keep winning, and because they have a Canadian player who won the MVP award.

Ah, I remember Strat-O-Matic when the cards were black on white on good, heavy card stock. I wonder if the edges on that twenty-sided die get worn down fast. Find me a good, solid titanium die with twenty faces, and I might start playing Strat-O-Matic again.

Here are your kind words in handy, one-click form. Thanks again. You should be a talking head.

September 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jeez, just saw the score. Sorry.

September 30, 2012  

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