Saturday, February 2, 2019

Book Reviews: November Road

November Road
by Lou Berney
You may or may not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who murdered John F. Kennedy and Officer Tippit before being murdered in turn by Jack Ruby. It is a fact that powerful mob bosses Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and Santo Trafficante Jr. of Tampa both despised JFK and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. In 1962 and 1963 each boss made impassioned predictions (really threats) to their associates that JFK was going to be murdered soon and implied that they and/or their friends would have something to do with it.

Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby had tenuous connections to both southern mob bosses. Ruby was also a low level flunky to the Chicago Outfit fronted by noted psychopath and JFK hater Sam Giancana. All three Mafia leaders were involved with the anti-Castro Cuban exile movement and CIA sponsored abortive attempts to murder Castro and invade Cuba. So there's a lot of smoke there. November Road asks the reader to imagine that there's not only smoke but also fire.

Frank Guidry is a loyal (well loyal to money and himself) lieutenant of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. Frank doesn't handle murder or any heavy work. Frank is a fixer and arranger. He greases the corruption wheels to get things done across Carlos' domains. Frank and Carlos go back. But Frank's first loyalty is to Frank. When an old friend suddenly pops up begging for Frank to hide him from Carlos' executioners, Frank offers help but promptly divulges his friend's location to his bosses. People might have seen them together; Frank doesn't want any misunderstandings with the notoriously exacting, brutal, and unforgiving Carlos. Frank wants to live, dammit! He may only have a life of empty hedonism but Frank believes that's better than the alternative.

But when another New Orleans mob associate catches a sudden case of death, Frank is worried enough to look for some similarities. The common thread is Dallas. Each man had performed some task in Dallas that, however minor, could be linked to the JFK assassination. Frank dropped off a car in Dallas. Frank didn't think anything of it at the time. He wore gloves while driving the car, but there are people who might remember him. Frank is smart enough to guess who later used this car.

When Carlos, thru his special assistant, the enigmatic Creole woman Seraphine, "asks" Frank to retrieve this vehicle so that it can be destroyed, Frank tries to convince himself that he's too valuable to be eliminated. 

Charlotte is an Oklahoma woman unhappily married to the dashing alcoholic Dooley. Charlotte and Dooley have two young daughters. Dooley isn't abusive but he is an emotional and financial drain on Charlotte. Charlotte is tired of hiding Dooley's drunkenness from their daughters. Charlotte hates the condescension and patronizing assistance from her in-laws. 

Charlotte wants more from life. Charlotte is inspired by the growing civil rights and womens' rights movements. Charlotte dreams of becoming a photographer. Charlotte has an eye for light and color, though her boss won't give her a fair shot. Charlotte takes her daughters and leaves Dooley. Charlotte heads for Los Angeles, where she intends to obtain a divorce and start over.

Fleeing west to beg protection from the only man he knows with the motive and power to protect him from Carlos, Frank meets Charlotte on the road. Selfishly, Frank decides it's smarter to travel with a woman and children because his pursuers are looking for a single man. However, although Charlotte is naive and a little affection starved, she's not stupid. Her questions to and interactions with Frank change him. And Charlotte sees through Frank more than he knows. Sometimes even a cynic craves love and faith. A sinful man may seek forgiveness. Charlotte and Frank are at a crossroads. Charlotte and Frank each will rethink their moral assumptions and worldviews. Can you start a relationship with a lie? Can a bad man feel guilt?

This was a good read at about 300 pages in hardcover. Despite the setting this is not really a mob novel. This book is about personal growth as much as anything. It's a road novel, with pithy but pungent descriptions of the politics, policies and people of the time. This very much includes racial segregation and automatic male assumption of female inferior status and competence. This book never dragged. The reader will want to know what happens next, which is good praise for any story.
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