cover image CRUMBTOWN


Joe Connelly, . . Knopf, $23 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41364-3

Lean, mean and comically incompetent—so run the characters of Connelly's riotous sophomore effort (after Bringing Out the Dead) about a crime junkie and the town that defeats him. Don Reedy's been down on his luck for as long as he can remember, and a recap of his past reveals a collection of stolen vehicles, botched stickups and robbed banks, the last landing him in jail with a 15-year term. He's just been granted conditional parole and is being shipped back to Crumbtown (a neighborhood in the fictional city of Dodgeport, "where dummies like Don were a dime a dozen") to act as consultant on a TV movie of his life of crime. On the set, he watches his infamous bank robbery replayed, complete with his triumphant trademark of tossing dollar bills in the air while speeding away with the big bucks. He's also keeping a lustful eye on Rita, a tough-talking Russian barmaid running from an abusive husband who can't seem to resist Don's charms. A ridiculous scheme to rob the staged bank on the set reunites Don with inept twin robbers Tim and Tom, the same pair who bungled the original bank robbery but this time manage a clean getaway. Could the cameras still be rolling on Don's new grift? This mangy hit parade of hardscrabble locals is kinetic. Connelly sustains a reckless, devil-may-care mood—a dramatic shift from his stark and harrowing debut—with clipped, fast prose and serpentine plot that offers plenty of opportunities for satire. (Mar.)

Forecast:This darkly comic caper may be wilder fans of Connelly's noirish Bringing Out the Dead, but critical plaudits will emphasize this writer's versatility and his gifts as a prose writer. An arresting jacket will lure browsers.