Jimmy the Stick is a debut novel by Michael Mayo (MysteriousPress / Open Road, 2012), a film reviewer and heretofore non-fiction writer, that is well written and artfully plotted. If Mickey Spillane had written a book with Agatha Christie, and gotten some input from Nicholas Pileggi (Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family-aka Goodfellas), they might have come up with a character like Fast Jimmy Quinn, alias Jimmy the Stick. Simply said, this is a damned good read.
The book is set against the backdrop of the Lindbergh kidnapping, but this is a red herring, a plot device to set up the story. Jimmy lost both parents at an early age, and was raised by an aunt, or so he thought, who put him to work on the streets stealing stuff. Eventually, Jimmy met some of the most notorious gangsters in New York, guys like Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Arnold Rothstein, “Lucky” Luciano, and Meyer Lansky. Jimmy went to work for Rothstein and Lansky as a “runner,” a fast kid who could deliver “messages” (envelopes stuffed with money) between Rothstein and his “business associates.” Along the way, Jimmy made some acquaintances who would play a part in this drama, among them Walter Spencer (“Spence”)–who actually was a friend–but also guys like Sammy “Spats” Spatola–a henchmen of Coll’s who had a serious dislike for Jimmy–and a guy called “Chink,” who would spell real trouble later in the story.
I should mention that the name “Jimmy the Stick” was what he went by after he severely injured a knee while trying to escape some bad guys. “Fast Jimmy” had to find other ways to survive, and his cane became a deadly weapon.
After the Lindbergh kidnapping hit the newspapers, Spence bails Jimmy out after Jimmy’s speakeasy was raided. Spence wants a favor. He wants him to stay in his mansion in New Jersey to protect his wife, Flora, and their baby boy, Ethan. After getting away from the mob, Spence married into a family that earned its money the old fashioned way: with oil. After the death of the family patriarch, Jimmy took over the business and was living very well. Flora, Spence says, is hysterical after the Lindbergh kidnapping because she fears that kidnappers will come after their baby. Spence is going out of town on business, and wants someone at the house he can trust. Spence takes the assignment, and quickly learns that things aren’t at all as they seem.
After Spence leaves, Jimmy starts noticing things like strange trucks scouting the mansion, and a pale human presence outside his window. Then, an obnoxious neighbor, a man given to drinking and doping too much but whom Spence’s wealthy mother-in-law still finds otherwise tolerable, is shot dead in the woods and nailed to a tree. As for Spence’s young wife Flora, she is neither a good wife nor a concerned mother, but a self-indulgent party girl who brings guys–and a particularly bothersome female friend who seems more enamored of Flora than of any of the men in the room–in for loud parties that sometimes get raucous.
As the days pass, Jimmy learns more and more about the family that Spence has married into, and soon discovers that what he doesn’t know may cost him his life. He will soon learn, too, that Spence hadn’t been entirely honest with him about the true nature of the business that took him out of town, and the stage is set for a rollicking confrontation with some undesirables when Spence returns. Among those undersirables is “Spats” Spacola, who still has it out for Jimmy.
The writing throughout this novel is solid, and the plot quite ingenuous. There is a surprise twist at the end involving Flora’s formerly deceased sister that caught me off guard, even though I was being led down that road all along.
If you like crime stories about mob guys, lmayhem, old houses with hidden rooms behind bookcases, and plot twists, you will love Jimmy the Stick. Somehow, surprisingly, it all works.
Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris