Handsome Johnny, by Lee Server**

I was invited to read and review this biography by Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press; it’s the story of Johnny Rosselli, known as “the gentleman gangster.” Sometimes I enjoy a good gangster story; my great-uncle (whom I didn’t really know) was Sherman Billingsley, the thuggish owner of the New York Stork Club, and so when I read about others, it sparks my imagination. Usually.

I didn’t engage with the book’s beginning when I sat down the with digital review copy, and eventually I got bored and set it aside for something more compelling. But often, the galleys that land on the back burner become more interesting once I can get an audio copy. After avoiding this book till publication, I found an audiobook at Seattle Bibliocommons, and I began listening to it in the evenings when I prepared dinner. In this way I found it more interesting. There’s a fair amount of background provided, because the writer (perhaps wisely) doesn’t assume his audience is proficient in American history, Prohibition and so on. I didn’t hear anything I didn’t know already, but it was okay. Gradually it took on the flavor of a documentary, not riveting but not bad. I listened to the first 25% and thought I would probably finish it this way.

Unfortunately, a deal breaker came up somewhere in the next ten percent. Rosselli has gone to Los Angeles because there was no mob out there yet. He figured he’d pioneer vice and leg-breaking on the West Coast. Fine, fine. He meets Al Capone, who is being harassed by cops and told he can’t stay in L.A., and Rosselli does Capone a favor and thereby comes into the Capone orbit. Okay, fine. But then we get into the women.

Now, I understand that mobsters were about as far as anyone can get from feminism, and of course in the 1940s and 50s, there wasn’t any women’s movement to speak of. The problem is that Server doesn’t differentiate Rosselli’s point of view from his own. I get the distinct impression that the two aren’t very different. There’s only one quality worth reporting in women, and that’s their physical appearance. So Rosselli falls for Jean Harlow, who is perfect. Completely perfect. What makes her perfect? Well, she’s got great legs. They are described. Breasts too; we hear about that. And she is a virgin! Every middle-aged mobster loves to get a virgin in the sack, right? At age seventeen she’s barely legal, but nobody worries about that. Oh, and also she’s very, very white. Porcelain skin. Just wonderful.

By the time Server is done explaining all of Harlow’s best qualities, and the misery that that bastard put her through (though he doesn’t describe it this way; in fact, the reader has a kind of bemused smirk to his voice throughout,) and oh how sad about her suicide at age 27, I am seeing red.

 I’m not chopping bell peppers now. I’m standing stock still in my kitchen, glaring at my tablet. Dinner may be a little late.

I try to continue with the book, but I am pissed.  Finally, I decide life is too short. I’ve tried this book twice, but I don’t finish it. In fact, I consider that second star in the rating to be generous.

This book is recommended to misogynistic assholes. Everyone else should give it a miss.

The Windchime Legacy, by A.W. Mykel*

thewindchimelegacyI was invited to read and review this title by my friends at Brash Books and Net Galley; it was one of half a dozen that I could check out. I appreciate the invitation, and the other books in that batch have been read by me already and happily reviewed. This one is different; it has not stood the test of time.

So in other words: no, no, no, and no.

Usually I say it is essential to stick with a book till at least the 20 percent mark in order to get a sense of where it’s going and whether it might redeem itself, but I can’t do that here. By chapter three I am ready to throw things.

When this book was originally published, there was a significant portion of the book-buying USA who would have laughed at the notion that it’s not okay to refer to a woman (in our case, a waitress) as having “a nice set of tits”, or calling her “a piece of ass”. Those same people would have told me not to be so touchy about the “N” word (applied for no special reason to the African-American cook in the restaurant.) Probably I would have heard people say that we should just face the fact that some people talk that way, and that the text therefore reflects reality.

I stuck with it long enough to determine that the demeaning nature of the dialogue was not merely placed to determine the nasty nature of a single protagonist, but both the computer scientist and his adversary and potential recruiter say and think these things.

And for me, that was enough.

Stick a fork in me; I’m done!