Friday, August 29, 2014

"The Big Crowd"

Kevin Baker is the author of five novels, including the “City of Fire” trilogy of historical novels set in New York City, Dreamland, Paradise Alley, and Strivers Row.

Baker applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Big Crowd, which is also set in New York, just before and after World War II, and reported the following:
The Big Crowd is based on a true story about a mayor of New York, who was forced to flee to Mexico, because he was accused of being involved in the greatest unsolved murder in mob history. The victim was the witness who sent the notorious “Murder, Inc.” gang of killers to the chair. It became part of the very first, nationally televised hearings on government corruption, and it was a huge sensation throughout the country at the time.

The whole sequence of events that leads to that killing gets started on p. 69, with a revolt of the longshoremen on the Brooklyn docks, who are rising up against the gangsters who had taken over their union:
No one could remember anyone challenging the Camardas on their own docks, with all their goons and their shlammers. The squat, swarthy enforcers, with dead eyes and new coats. Strutting the docks all day with their hands shoved deep in their pockets, their lengths of lead pipe wrapped in newspapers. Walking right through the men when they came down to the wharves, like wolves culling sheep.

Then Panto started holding his meetings all over Red Hook and the Heights. He looked too thin and too tall to be a longshoreman, but he was wiry and deceptively strong. Not yet thirty years old. A kindly smile under that silly little moustache and the silly little gigolo’s hat he wore, hook slung over his sleeveless undershirt. For the rallies, he took care to dress up in his one good suit and tie, the hat slung over his eyes at a rakish angle. In the movies, he would have been cast as the bad guy, the Mafioso, or the false lover. In person there was something touchingly genteel about him, something careful and dignified, the air of an impoverished provincial signore.
Peter Panto was a real person, still in his twenties, insanely courageous. He led this grassroots union revolt against these terrifying mob killers, and the mayor’s much younger brother, Tom O’Kane, who’s this very idealistic law student working with the union, is completely captivated by him. He worships his older brother, too, but Charlie O’Kane is part of the political machine that runs the city, he’s much more cautious and political. Charlie doesn’t see how things are changing now with the war, it’s no longer going to be possible to have these little groups of men in backrooms running a city as enormous and diverse as New York. But Panto understands this, he sees how everything is changing now:
They loved him in the musty local halls, where there hadn’t been a union meeting for ten years, twenty years, or maybe never. In the little parish churches built by congregations of long-vanished Protestants. The walls painted the color of the Mediterranean now, filled with statues of the Virgin, and the favorite saints of Sicily and Calabria, Castellammare and Altomonte. The men shouting his name from the moment he walked up to the front of the hall, or to the altar, standing on chairs and pews just to get a look at him. To hear him tell them the same thing, every time.

We are strong. We are many. All we have to do is stand up and fight.”
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Baker's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Big Crowd.

Writers Read: Kevin Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue