My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book via Booktasters.
Four Square Miles: The Lay Off is the first of a four-part series centred around Nuccio ‘Nutsy’ Gento, a bookmaker in New York who essentially takes sports bets. While not exceptionally intelligent or outstanding as a student, Nutsy was a whiz with numbers and counting money and ended up a bookie when his family needed to be supported. Nutsy is married to the smart and beautiful Kathy, and has two children Sammy (Samantha) and NJ whom we meet during the course of the book. His sister Blackie, once part of a gang, now works at a bank, but with a black belt, is not one to be messed with; she is married to Ladro who works with Nutsy. After having suffered a huge setback some years ago in his business which meant the family had to struggle without even basic comforts, Nutsy has set up a group with four others who balance each other’s bets thus ensuring that none of them takes too big a hit. The group is also putting together a million dollars to invest in a new opportunity. But with Nutsy controlling an area that brings in most of the profits, two at least of the group want to change the deal they have so that everyone profits equally; they convince Belo, the third (who does support Nutsy) to join them and offer Nutsy this new arrangement. Understandably angry but also aware that at his stage in life, he can’t take heavy risks, Nutsy seeks time to think it over. But circumstances start to change, putting additional pressure on him.
Alongside, Kathy is nervous about Nutsy’s business because of their past experiences and working to ensure some security for the family in case they are ‘hit’ again. At home Nutsy is at loggerheads with his daughter Sammy who, just out of high-school, wants to take a career decision he doesn’t approve of. And Sammy has also invited some trouble by taking on a young gang member for picking on her friend.
The first thing that stood out in this book was the writing style; while in third person, it adopts a present tense description which gives the effect of being shown rather than told the story—the different scenes unfolding before one. Not a style I’ve come across too often (if I remember right, Wolf Hall has this approach), and interesting though it takes a minute or two to get into the flow of things.
This is a nicely written story and I enjoyed meeting all the characters, and the different plotlines we are introduced to. While the characters are on the wrong side of the law, one does feel sympathy for Nutsy and his family, and root for them when they are being done badly by. (For some reason I kept picturing Buddy from Cake Boss and his family as the characters). I also liked that while our plot is set in an environment with gangs and violence, the author manages to get this across without unnecessary foul language or graphic violence.
I thought the author did a great job with the different threads that are moving along side by side; each of them holds one’s interest and one becomes eager to know what will happen next, whether it is with Nutsy and his partners or the matter of Sammy’s career or the dispute with Vito, the young man she took on. There are also connections revealed between the different characters as we move along in the story, adding to one’s interest.
My one complaint was that while I did know this was the first part of a story, I didn’t expect to be left hanging so to speak vis-à-vis all the story threads; I had expected a complete story but with elements left open to follow in the subsequent book/s. From this perspective, I did feel a little unsatisfied at the end of the book, though I did want to read on and find out what happens next.
3.75 stars for its interesting plotlines and characters.