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by Larry Beinhart
Melville House, August 2022
288 pages
ISBN: 1612199909

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Larry Beinhart is most famous for his novel AMERICAN HERO, the inspiration for Barry Levinson's 1997 film WAG THE DOG, a satire that is remembered these days more for the tragic Anne Heche's appearance as a government functionary than its demonstration that politics is to a great extent spectacle-making. In AMERICAN HERO, a beleaguered presidential administration creates a fake war to distract the public from the president's personal failings. It's a vision of politics that seemed both screwball and utterly believable in 1997, and yet also, in a world newly waking up to the existence of the internet, incredibly innocent. Beinhart has also written an acclaimed series featuring hitman Tony Casella, which began back in 1986, and a book on the mechanics of crime fiction, a field in which he's indubitably an expert. Less astute is his reading of the particular kind of politics that his newest novel, THE DEAL GOES DOWN, purports to explore.

"The deal" in question is an agreement made between Beinhart's returning antihero Tony Casella, and a pair of women: one, the suffering wife of a Jeffrey Epstein-type billionaire, and the other a legal eagle and would-be philanthropist with a great idea for a startup nonprofit. Instead of defending abused and neglected wives against their powerful husbands in divorce court, this enterprise will arrange hits on said husbands, detour round the court, and collect a neat percentage from the relieved widows, therewith to fund the liberation of less affluent wives.

Beinhart's storytelling is wry and fast-paced, with expert cliffhangers. However, the premise of THE DEAL GOES DOWN abounds with improbabilities, from trusting the clients to the likely scepticism of the IRS, but the major one is its incipient duo's trust in Casella, whom one of them meets casually in public. Because well-organized conspiracies hire hit men off the street all the time, and women who plot, collectively, against the men who have destroyed their lives and their sense of trust are very apt to trust random men to safely conspire with them--right?

Another improbability is a secondary heroine, seemingly written for the movie adaptation. When Casella needs an adult woman who looks like a junior high schooler to test the seduceability of the first of the evil husbands, he finds Alison. A sixty-year-old hitman's manic pixie dreamgirl, Alison is willing to take any risk but amazingly in control of all risky situations. She looks fourteen and thinks like Sherlock Holmes crossed with Robert Downey, Junior's Sherlock Holmes. A sex worker, she's obviously lived through some traumatizing situations but remains unruffled, trusting, and put-together at all times. In fact, her unflappability proves that had the older women conspirators wanted to find themselves a hit woman, they could have done so. Instead, they have Casella and Allison.

Do we need a crime novel about a domestic violence murder syndicate? Maybe, but with a dash of realistic psychology.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, August 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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