Five stars for Jerkwater

Clarion Review logoJust wanted to share this five-star review of Jerkwater Town, as I prepare for a reading at San Diego’s Mysterious Books February 7:

Filled with interesting historical tidbits, this is a captivating story of a mob feud.
Five Stars (Out of Five)
In F. James Greco’s Jerkwater Town, former reporter Nick Lanouette returns to San Diego to root out the truth at the request of an old friend. Nick is determined to carry out his task of discovering whether the right man is in jail for a past mob-boss hit. Vitally aware of his own addictions, he joins forces with a woman who’s overcome hers in an attempt to free a potentially innocent man. A rich parallel story intertwines, tracing the complex and compelling history of an Italian family through nearly eighty years of life and tragedy on the west coast of America.

The book can be considered a sequel to the author’s previous work, Falling Down, since main characters Nick and Michelle Gallo appear in both. It’s three years later, 1990, and Michelle’s long-absent sister, Maria, has suddenly appeared with an urgent request.

The inclusion of the date and time at the beginning of each chapter enables the reader to follow the action chronologically. This device is especially useful since there are two stories unfolding: Nick and Maria’s investigation spanning a nearly three-month period between May and July 1990 to clear convicted mobster Vito Erbi, and the evolving dynasty of Italian immigrant Emilio Erbi over three generations from 1909 to 1955.

The title of the book comes from a word initially used to describe a city without a water tower; a character uses it in the more negative sense as a remote and unimportant place. Such interesting tidbits help make this book a captivating work. Histories of the cities of Spokane and San Diego are similarly culled, along with information on the burgeoning labor movement of the times.

Greco’s prose is first-rate: “Like pugilists tapping gloves at the beginning of a match, Vito and Nick took inventory of each other.” Or, “Their mother had conducted an obsessive search for meaning at the bottom of a bottle.”

The novel contains language and material that is appropriate for the topics covered, such as adult entertainment—Maria works as a masseuse-and the underworld criminal element and all that entails. For example, one of Nick’s former background sources is seventy-seven-year-old Carlo “the Torch” Tacchino, who is aptly described as having “dark circles under eyes set like focal points on a relief map of pale, olive-hued skin that traversed his face like rivulets carving a sun-baked desert.”

Nick is also a well-drawn character. Readers familiar with Falling Down will recall his sex addiction struggles; this time around he has the assistance of a “sponsor” and uses an unlit pipe to quell his milder nicotine urges.

A number of Italian words and phrases are italicized in the dialogue, but it’s not difficult to understand their meaning. A couple of the years appear out of order, but the action is still easy to follow.

This satisfying story is all the more poignant when one realizes it’s the “result of a prideful, misguided feud.”

Robin Farrell Edmunds

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