cover image The Cinch

The Cinch

Richard Martins. Villard Books, $17.95 (269pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55322-1

In Chicago, Sonny Greco is known as an all-around good guy. He cheats on his wife, runs a sports book for the Mob and doesn't collect tardy payments with a baseball bat. Ask his buddy Pizza Sal, whose cavalier attitude toward drugs and gambling debts annoys well-connected people in the neighborhood. Better still, ask Frank Thorne, the federal agent stringing Sonny along on behalf of Operation Clothesline. Using computer-vetted sports tips and adjustments in the point spreads, this scheme to crack down on illegal betting generates huge losses for the Mafia. But Frank wants more. When Sal suggests a big cocaine deal to recoup, the maverick agent sees a chance to trip up Sonny and turn him into an informant. Against his instincts, Sonny agrees to help out with the buy, but Frank's carefully planned sting goes utterly haywire as equipment malfunctions, Sal suffers a highly deserved heart attack, and a smarmy, crooked cop throws a spanner in the works. This vigorous, wise-cracking first novel owes a tip of the hat to The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight. Though slow at the start, it picks up enough speed and street savvy to deliver a satisfying punch at the end. (July 21)