Jimmy Benchpress

You may wonder why I went back to 2002 for Charlie Stella’s novel JIMMY BENCHPRESS. I’ve wanted to read the man’s work for some time and this one was at the library. Anyway you have to start somewhere.

The novel’s principal character is Jimmy Mangino, fresh out of jail, looking for opportunities. He knows just where to look; Jimmy is waiting to become a made guy in a Brooklyn crime family. He zooms in a wannabe gangster named Larry Berra; not Yogi, Larry. Larry loaned $58,000 to a barber who has no hope of paying it back. He’s fallen under the wing of a made guy who can spot a fool and his money and knows how to separate them.

Larry has a beautiful girlfriend named Leanna. You could get the idea that she’s available to the highest bidder, an idea Jimmy puts into motion. He’s also hooked up with a guy trafficking in home made porn. Jimmy sees Larry as a cash cow and draws Leanna into a nasty game.

Two cops from Organized Crime are watching the show. These guys have issues. One of them beat a child murderer half to death, the other is stalking his ex-wife. NYPD brass are trying to do damage control as the Feds develop sources inside the Brooklyn mob.

Charlie Stella doesn’t embellish the life Jimmy Benchpress has chosen. The novel snaps with brusque dialogue and quick bursts of violence. It’s hard to sort through the characters for someone likeable; maybe the old barber trying to defend his wife. Maybe the cop who doesn’t use suspects as punching bags. Certainly not Jimmy. Meeting Jimmy is like being run over by a sanitation truck, not once, but repeatedly.

The ending has a nice ironic twist. Jimmy gets what he wants, but the price is high. He’s cut a swath of mayhem from Manhattan to Canarsie. Charlie Stella shows you what two bit hoods do in their spare time. This isn’t the scenic tour of little old New York. If you want that, buy a postcard. If you want a fast-paced spin through Brooklyn, Charlie Stella is your man.