cover image Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

C. Joseph Graves. Bloomsbury, $26 (448p) ISBN 978-1-62040-785-1

In this historical crime novel, Greaves (Hard Twisted) sets four real-life Jazz Age figures on a collision course. We witness Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lucania becoming New York mobster legend Charlie “Lucky” Luciano; Nassau County lawyer George Morton Levy growing a reputation for being a peerless defense attorney; ambitious Thomas E. Dewey being named special prosecutor for New York County, with an eye on the governor’s mansion; and Cokey Flo Brown, a grifter, madame, and heroin addict, running a brothel in New York City. After a long preamble, the story settles down in 1936, when Dewey tries to use Cokey Flo’s testimony to bust Luciano, who hires Levy for his defense. The novel begins with cinematic scenes that crisply encapsulate the personalities of its four main characters. But in relating so much early mob history, the author seems to be merely recycling elements already familiar from The Cotton Club and Boardwalk Empire. And once Luciano’s trial gets underway, the narrative becomes much too reliant on actual court transcripts. The trial itself is not especially dramatic and ends on an anticlimactic note, which buries the author’s thesis: that the verdict was ultimately based on Luciano and Dewey switching roles, with the former acting like a gentleman in court and the later making like a gangster behind the scenes. There are some flashes of snappy dialogue, and the setting is nicely evoked, but the writing is too flat and never fully takes off. (Nov.)