(31. - 1136.) City on Fire by Don Winslow – It is 1986. The Italians and the Irish have divided Providence, Rhode Island. The respective gangs have prospered for a generation.
Danny Ryan’s father was the leader of the Irish in Dogtown until he became consumed by drink. John Murphy took over. Danny’s wife Terri, is a Murphy. Only the Murphy’s are in the backroom of the Glocca Morra Bar making decisions.
Pasco Ferri is in charge of the Italians on Federal Hill with Jacky Moretti serving a life sentence for murder. Jacky's sons, Peter and Pauli, are anxious for Pasco to retire.
Danny is restless. He was happiest as a fisherman. Loving Terri he joined the family business. He is ill-suited to being a “collector” of unpaid debts to the gang. He would be glad to move but Terri is determined to stay with her large family and friends.
The Irish cling to past glories and connections with the Old Country. Funds are collected for the IRA. They are content with their share of the organized crime of Providence.
The Italians are ambitious. The Moretti’s have maximized their returns and want more.
Power sharing agreements between criminal gangs are fragile. It is striking that the Providence arrangements have lasted a generation.
The peace between the gangs is fractured when a beautiful woman is coveted by a Moretti and a Murphy. While the heads of the families seek a negotiated resolution the younger generation is more reckless, even eager to resolve matters by violence.
I was struck by each side being poorly trained for war. They are violent men but their violence has been against those unable to defend themselves or in individual fights. Each side brings in a “shooter” from the outside.
The war is vicious. Unlike many thrillers the impact of death on both sides is explored. Not for Winslow the casual killing of the bad guys with no thoughts upon their family and friends. The Irish and the Italians grieve hard.
An end to the war gets harder and harder. Winslow effectively explores the machinations and negotiations of the gangs.
Danny’s long estranged mother appears. The bright and beautiful Madeline McKay is a striking character. I wish she had arrived earlier in the book. Her effort to regain a relationship with Danny is fraught with emotion.
Other personal matters, uncommon for a thriller, are important to the story. As well, Winslow addresses the history of Providence and its anticipated future. Demographics deeply affect the gangs.
The end is classic American thriller. The body count extends into the double digits as usual for Winslow. It need not have been as high.
Winslow’s pages flow by as he drives the narrative. The first in a trilogy, City on Fire, is a good book.
Winslow, Don – (2005) - The Power of the Dog (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2016) - Cartel