Shooting Dr. Jack by Norman Green (HarperCollins, $25) by Norman Green. Green's first novel is a gritty, down-to-earth story about three characters involved in a shady junkyard business on Troutman Street, deep in the underbelly of New York's borough of Brooklyn.
This novel mixes elements of "The Sopranos" and "Traffic" and comes up with the best qualities of both. Green tells an emotionally provocative story while keeping readers on edge with suspense.
Green's greatest triumph is the development of three realistic characters readers can relate to and care about.
Fat Tommy Rosselli is a charming reluctant wise guy who is loved by everyone, including the police. Stoney, his partner in the junkyard business, is a middle-age alcoholic family man who commutes from suburban New Jersey. And Tuco is a street-wise Hispanic kid, an illiterate mechanical genius who works odd jobs at the junkyard.
The junkyard world is turned on its head when Tommy and Stoney's accountant is found dead of multiple gunshot wounds in a squalid motel, his body lying on the junkyard books. His murder opens investigations by the police and the Internal Revenue Service, and sets off a chain of events involving assassinations, setups, intricate schemes, daring rescues and dangerous family reunions.
New Yorkers can follow Green's entertaining depiction of the landscapes and locals, while other readers can experience the pungent flavor of street life in these neighborhoods.
An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser (Pantheon, $22). The profile for Laura Fraser's travelogue-memoir has all the trappings of fiction.
Nursing a broken heart after her husband leaves her, a magazine writer from California travels to an Italian island and begins an affair with a married French art professor. They continue the tryst in exotic locales, partaking of gorgeous landscapes, gourmet meals and frequent sex.
But Fraser insists it's all true (and quite possibly still going on) and that only the names and characteristics have been changed, to protect identities.
However, this tourist's diary gains grit with Fraser's heavy heart and the characters' realistic traits. (It would be hard to count the number of references and inferences to the narrator's "large bottom.") She also displays an ego so shattered that insults and disappointments just quietly seep in, arousing little reaction from her.
Fraser, in her mid-30s, draws from a seemingly endless bank account and free time, staying in exotic resorts throughout Florence, London, Stromboli, Milan, the Aeolian Islands and Morocco. It's odd for a freelance journalist to not mention deadline or budget even once.
The story never gets below a superficial emotional level, but (just like Fraser describes her European affair) it's nice for what it is.
-- Associated Press