Thursday, November 15, 2012

Under the Eye of God by Jerome Charyn

The first thing you notice is the thickness of this book's jacket. You have never held a trade paperback with such satisfying heft. The cover feels like it's coated with some kind of velvety space-age plastic that makes it durable and pleasant to the touch at the same time. Like it was published by IKEA.
But it wasn't published by IKEA. It was published by the Mysterious Press, founded by a guy I took exception to not that long ago. It's also been home to some of my favourite books by people like Paco Ignacio Taibo II, James Crumley, Donald Westlake--and, not to mention, ten other Isaac Sidel novels* by Jerome Charyn
You're just going to have to trust me when I say I've got a lot more to say about the other ten books, going all the way back to 1974's Blue Eyes, and that I'd hoped you'd have already had the chance to read that before you read this blog post, but you didn't and you don't so this is where we are. 
Under the Eye of God is the first Isaac Sidel book since 1999's Citizen Sidel, which saw Isaac win the office of Vice-President of the United States in the 1988 election. If we've learned anything from the previous ten Isaac books, it's that Isaac is second banana to no one. Certainly not President-Elect J. Michael Storm, his running mate who was introduced back in 1997's El Bronx. I'm not spoiling anything to say that squeezing a character the size of Isaac Sidel--who spent most of his term as Commissioner of the NYPD doing battle with a tapeworm he'd been stuck with as revenge for taking on a Peruvian pickpocket clan--into the Vice-Presidential Suite is the equivalent loading a pistol onstage in the first act of a play by Chekhov.
Under the Eye of God picks up just after the election as Storm realizes how he pales next to his Veep and dispatches Isaac on a goodwill speaking tour of Texas--accompanied by the incumbent president's personal astrologer. What follows is classic Charyn: crosses, double-crosses, and even a few reverse-double-crosses all set against a passionately constructed piece of New Yorkiana.  While some of the action does indeed take place in Texas, notably the Alamo, the main thrust concerns shady goings-on at the historic Ansonia Hotel (currently appearing as "The Drake" on TV's 666 Park Place) on West Broadway.  Sidel is chasing the ghost of Arnold Rothstein--"AR", as Isaac calls him--the man believed to have convinced the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series (New York and baseball are inextricable in Charyn's universe), biographed not too long ago by Nick Tosches in King of the Jews, and through this quest gets closer to understanding the true threat against the Bronx that's been brewing over the last few books in the series.

*Those ten other Isaac books were reissued as eBooks last spring by Mysterious Press. You can pretty much read them in whatever order you feel like if you're hunting for them in used bookstores, but reading them in order is more rewarding, and super easy in the eBook format. Start with Blue Eyes.

This post is part of a Blog Book Tour organized by Tribute Books. 


Tribute Books said...

Emmet, thanks for sharing your love for Jerome's latest Isaac installment. Appreciate it!

Lenore said...

You're on my MOST WANTED list of reviewers I hoped would love this novel. A proud Jerome Charyn will be reading this tonight. If he writes a twelfth, the credit goes to you.