The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker was received as a Shelf Awareness giveaway ARC. Originally published in 2013, this is the paperback edition. Here is the pedometer geek’s extended review.
The Big Crowd
By Kevin Baker
Published by First Mariner Books, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2013
Politics and big business…some things never change.
As the back cover blurb indicates, Tom O’Kane has always looked up to his older brother Charlie. He latched on to Charlie as a surrogate father when he first arrived in America from County Mayo. Charlie is the American Dream personified: an immigrant who worked his way up from beat cop to mayor of New York. But what if Charlie isn’t as wonderful as he seems?
That is the premise behind this novel which is set in the late 1930s through the early 1950s in the locales of New York City and Mexico. Politics and corruption go hand in hand in the story about a mayor, Charlie O’Kane, and his brother Tom, who is a prosecuting attorney investigating the story behind the mysterious death (read suicide) of the star witness, Kid Twist, who was all set to testify against a New York crime syndicate.
Beginning with Tom’s arrival in New York, the tale then switches to the present day in Mexico where Charlie is now living as the former ambassador to Mexico. The story is told in bits and pieces, presenting the facts of what happened as Tom slowly puzzles out the truth about his brother. Baker continues to jump around from past to present and back again. Often, the story follows Tom’s train of thought (or what he visualized happened). While those thoughts/visualizations can be a bit confusing at times (as it was for this reader*), it builds suspense into a story of betrayal, politics, and greed.
The novel, based on one of the biggest unsolved mob murders in history, brings to life the boroughs of New York and the beaches of Mexico as well as the machinations of political leaders, mob bosses, and unions during the 1940s. No Boss Tweed or Tammany Hall, but there is a Mr. Big who orchestrates friend and foe alike in this historical novel.
A few passages and quotes this reader found interesting:
“You mean throwing people out of their homes.”
“Screw people! You can’t let people get in the way, or you won’t ever accomplish a thing.” (p. 333)
“That all sounds very democratic.”
“Grow up! Democracy doesn’t enter into it. Things are going to be changing fast now—too fast for a lot of people to keep up.” (p. 333)
“Trust me, son. Power is no easy thing to give up.” (p. 334)
To repeat, politics and big business…some things never change.
* This was the first I have read Kevin Baker, but I don’t think it was be the last of his I will read; however, having said that, I will probably read them without reading another book at the same time as that may be the reason for losing the story threads (per Tom’s thoughts and visualizations), causing my confusion. My suggestion: read the book without distractions for the greatest reading enjoyment.