Maximum Rossi by Paul W Papa.
A Las Vegas Crime Noir
‘She was blessed with an abundance of legs; enough for two girls. It made me think things I had no business thinking.’
To find a modern pastiche of the noir/hardboiled novels of the 40s and 50s this good is quite rare. This is a really decent homage to the age of Chandler and Hammett, and it’s a pleasure to read. Entertaining for the story and the way it plays with tropes and subverts expectations. Max Rossi captures the lone wolf PI spirit perfectly, although he’s a reluctant shamus, his first case is very personal. Max has to prove himself innocent when a made guy gets his throat slit after they have a public fight. This isn’t just about avoiding the wrath of the law, there’s the Chicago mob on his tail too. To be honest Max Rossi isn’t a popular guy anyway, the people who run this town fear his connection to the Boston mob, he keeps getting told to leave. The feel for time and place is great, Papa knows this town and his historical setting is well pitched. Maximum Rossi is fast pace and taut, there’s a nod to the real gangsters of the time, Luciano, Lansky, Seigel (RIP) that add colour the background. The dialogue is snappy, there are plenty of quotable lines, ones that demonstrate the love of the original hardboiled novels and those that reflect a modern twist:
‘The man brought two goons with him. One was just shy of a mountain, the other a molehill.’
Breakfast, Max Rossi is minding his own business when Salvatore Manella spoils the morning. The former New York mobster was sent here to clean up after the syndicate had Bugsy Seigel killed for skimming. Lucky Luciano got his money back, Meyer Lansky got the Sands and the Flamingo. Sal stayed, he wants to know why Max hasn’t left town, out of respect for his father, a fixer for the mob, he’s asking nicely. Max doesn’t have the connections to Boston that New York and Chicago are afraid of. He came from Boston for a wedding and liked Law Vegas well enough to stay, Max likes to gamble:
‘The fat city enamoured me.’
Max has no intention of being scared off. He’s even getting himself a house of out here. Sal leaves the threat hanging there. Later Max gets himself into a poker game with Fingers Abbandanddo and Joe ‘the barber’ Bilotti, (handy with a cut throat). Bilotti is a bore, an oaf, he slaps his dancer girlfriend around until Max jumps to Jeanie’s defence. Bilotti isn’t used to taking a beating, he won’t get over it quickly so Max takes Jeanie to his new place to keep her out of the way for the night. In the morning she’s gone, really gone, no one can find her. That’s when Max gets acquainted with lieutenant Connor McQueenie. Bilotti got his throat slashed last night and Max’s alibi, Bilotti’s girl, is nowhere to be found. As Max looks for Jeanie but he runs into her friend Virginia and a world of troubles…
Max is a tough nut, he needs to be, he’s about to get beaten, battered and shot at. The answers are always just out of grasp, events spooning out of control. I can’t really say how the tropes are subverted because that would definitely be a spoiler but the ‘jump in front of a bullet’ scene is a cracker. There’s plenty of humour in Maximum Rossi, when detective McQueenie says:
“Don’t leave town,”
Max notes that finally someone wanted him to stay. This novel is fun, a clever quick read. A second novel Rossi’s Gamble will be published later in the summer, I’ll be there for that one after this opener to the Rossi series.
9781734405736 HPD Publishing, paperback out now

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