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Monday, May 24, 2010

Johnny Porno

Frankly, I do not usually pay much attention to book blurbs because of how writers generally trade them among themselves, their special way of exchanging rather painless favors. But to Charlie Stella’s credit, most of the blurbs on the cover of Johnny Porno come not from authors, but from newspaper and magazine critics. And then there’s this one from Ken Bruen, a man who has written several of my favorite hardcore crime novels, “Stella is a winner, a true artist.” Despite my misgivings about the honesty of book blurbs, when a talent like Ken Bruen offers that kind of praise, I do tend to listen – and, in this case, I am happy that I did.

Johnny Porno is set in 1973, a year during which Richard Nixon is still hoping to survive the Watergate break-in, the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes abortion, the Viet Nam War officially ends and the state of New York bans the screening of perhaps the most famous pornographic film of all time, Deep Throat. It is also the year that John Albano, a hotheaded carpenter, is stripped of his union card after he argues with the wrong man on a job site, making it near impossible for Albano to pay child support to his ex-wife.

John Albano loves his son and sincerely wants to provide for him but, since losing his high paying union job, he simply cannot meet his obligations to the boy. So when a New York mobster offers him the job of gathering cash receipts from the illegal showings of Deep Throat, Albano jumps at the chance to earn some extra money. Albano’s quick fists, and his even quicker temper, first bring him to the attention of the mob boss, but that same inability to control himself will soon have him in trouble with Eddie Vento, the man who hired him. Unfortunately for him, John Albano has a special talent for making deadly enemies, and his life is about to get complicated.

Charlie Stella has filled Johnny Porno with a wide variety of characters. There are mob enforcers, hit men, crooked cops, good cops, vindictive ex-wives, fragile FBI men, drug addicts, police informants, wannabe porn stars (and those who live like porn stars already), good girls, con men, good guys, cute kids, loyal mothers – and Johnny Porno, a man who hates the nickname he is stuck with and just wants a little respect for his efforts to do right by his son. This is a gritty, complicated story and it is not for the faint-of-heart or the easily offended. If books were rated in the manner of Hollywood movies, Johnny Porno would have earned at least an “R” rating for itself. But if you enjoy Soprano-style fiction, you will not want to miss this one.

As the Chicago Sun-Times put it, (Stella) “May just be the best crime writer you’ve never read.”

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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