Members Only?

Check out my review of Carmen Amato’s terrific Prohibition-era mystery, Murder At The Galliano Club, the first in a series of thrillers:

There’s a satisfying magic to a well-told tale delivered by an author with a deft touch for delivering the details of the time and the place of a story that add depth, complexity and a been-there authenticity to the characters and the unfolding action.

And in Carmen Amato’s Murder at The Galliano Club, the first in a series of Prohibition-era mysteries set in the fictional upstate New York mill town of Lido and centered on the Italian-owned bar and social club of the book’s title, the magic may be quiet and subtle but it provides a rock-solid foundation for a story that’s far more than a who-dun-it.

The book opens with what should be an un-adulterated moment of triumph for the working stiffs crowding the club and their cross-town Polish co-workers at the Lido Premium Copper and Brass Rolling Mill. They were minutes away from pulling off a monumental job, filling a huge order from a Boston shipyard in the 45 days the bosses set as a deadline for a $250 bonus promised to every worker provided the work was done without injury and that orders from other customers were also filled.

Bootleg beer and liquor flowed, food was gobbled down and a tense air of wary anticipation crackled across the club as the workers waited to hear the whistle ending the last shift of the day and official word that the deal was done, the provisos were met and the bonus money would soon line their pockets.

In walks Jimmy Zambrano, mill foreman, shaking hands like a politician. He jumps up on the table to deliver a message from the bosses. The deal was done, the men would get their bonus money. But not all at once. It would be paid out across three days, in alphabetical order.

An uproar ensues with workers suspecting management was welching on the deal — even worse, that their Polish co-workers were about to get preferential treatment. Even Vito Spinelli, club owner and unofficial mayor of East Lido, the town’s Italian enclave, smells a rat. Cooler heads prevail and help Zambrano sell the payout schedule, including Luca Lombardo, Spinelli’s right-hand man and club manager.

The party cranks back up and keeps rolling until closing time.

Less than an hour later, Lombardo steps outside the back of the club and finds Zambrano’s body partially stuffed under the frame of Vito Spinelli’s Packard. The dead foreman has been garroted with copper wire that bit deeply into his neck.

That shifts the story into overdrive. Murder, blackmail, rum-running, intrigue and double-crossing treachery introduce a cascade of characters, including crooked Irish cops, a Chicago fugitive from Al Capone’s gunsels, a larcenous blue-blood wannabe mill accountant, a fallen Broadway chorus girl with a horrible secret and a vivacious Irish bank employee who steals Lombardo’s heart.

Splicing this all together is Amato’s knowing eye for detail and intuitive feel for the temper of the times, the class divisions and the clannishness of immigrant communities struggling to make it in America.

Author of the Emilia Cruz mysteries, Amato was born and raised in Rome, New York, a stop on the Erie Canal and home to a copper mill that once accounted for 10 percent of the nation’s finished product. And her grandfather was a sheriff’s deputy during the Prohibition era.

But she doesn’t use this knowledge to create a nostalgic air or spin a sepia-toned period piece. Instead, she builds a firm foundation for the story she wants to tell and the characters who come to life in the telling. It’s a world worth exploring and a tale worth telling.

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