Project Death

Richard Bertematti, Author
Richard Bertematti, Author Arte Publico Press $22.95 (190p) ISBN 978-1-55885-193-1
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 148 pages - 978-0-9903027-3-5
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Bertematti presents a gritty inner-city setting and a protagonist who doesn't fit the usual profile, but he squanders these elements in pedestrian prose and pro-forma plotting. Narrator Tito Rico, 31, is a Cuban-American who lives in a Harlem housing project and works as a cleaner for the Transit Authority. Surrounded by penny-ante hustlers, drug dealers and numbers runners, Tito tries to lead a straight, normal life. He fixes his car, saves his money and plans to marry his Puerto Rican girlfriend, Mircea. But when Pepito, a boyhood friend, is murdered, Tito puts everything at risk to join up with Alonzo--an old pal just out of prison who's as deadly as Easy Rawlins's chum Mouse--to find out who did it. ""He stuck out his hand,"" says Tito when Alonzo pledges to cap Pepito's killer. ""I should have thought about it some more, but I grabbed his hand and we shook the way we used to do it when we were young."" But honest moments like that from a plausible past can't make up for an unconvincing plot which finds Tito and Alonzo quickly exposing high-level corruption in both the police force and the housing authority. There's authenticity in Bertematti's depiction of life in the Harlem projects and the interplay among Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and African Americans. But flat writing--including dull dialect and an absurdly coy decision to use dashes in dirty words--keep a potentially powerful story from coming fully to life. (May)
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