Midsummer Night’s Read

Beach Fare with an Edge

The Rackets
By Thomas Kelly
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 374 pp., $24
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A beach-bound ballerina from Smile i-D
photo: Kevin Davies/i-D The Body Issue, June 1988
A beach-bound ballerina from Smile i-D

Thomas Kelly understands the literary value of a well-turned cliché or two. In his new thriller, The Rackets, Kelly's rat-a-tat narrative is peppered with the blustery patois of New Jersey neo-gangsterism (plenty of Sopranos-esque ball busters and fat fucks) and shot through with all these delicious metaphors squeezed from the general fund of classic grit fiction (one tough is described as "two hundred and fifty pounds of human fuck-you"). Cinematic and completely enthralling, the suspenseful plot revolves around a college-educated son's decision to seek vengeance for the evil done his father, a Teamster whose stumping finally gets him whacked, and how, by the mob. The perspective skips smoothly among a cast of hard-boiled types—union stiffs, corrupt pols, pistol-whipping wiseguys, bighearted cops. What elevates Kelly's novel above the swarm is the old-fashioned crisis of conscience that spurs the action: Are violent means justified by honorable ends? Think Dostoyevsky with a hard hat and lead pipe. —Rick Levin

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