cover image Casino Moon

Casino Moon

Peter Blauner. Simon & Schuster, $21 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-671-88177-1

A young man's struggle to break free of his gangster family holds center stage in Blauner's second novel, a competent but derivative tale that's no match for his Edgar-winning Slow Motion Riot. The author again offers a gritty portrait of lowlifes, in this case an Atlantic City crew riven by federal harassment, falling income and paranoia. But the wish of Anthony Russo, adopted son of underboss Vincent Russo, to go straight won't surprise those who recall Michael Corleone in The Godfather; nor will Anthony's slow realization that the sins of the father, including blood lust, are inherited by the son. That the hero's love interest is an ex-whore with a heart of gold also doesn't earn points for originality. Even so, Anthony's scheme to make his own way by managing an aging boxer on the comeback trail brings readers deep into the dirty world of prizefighting, with Blauner tracing the boxer's battered nobility with as much sensitivity as he does Anthony's love/hate toward the man who raised him. Forgetting that less can be more, though, the author implicates Vincent Russo in the death of Anthony's natural father, a complication as distracting as the narration's choppy alternation between first and third person. Still, this isn't bad for a sophomore slump. (Sept.)