February 1-28, 2021 Tour
~~~~ Crime and Corruption, Boston Style ~
Stories of political and police corruption and conspiracy theories permeated Seventies cinema and crime fiction. Richard Nixon and his cast of misfits were in the White House. Viewers cheered “Attica! Attica!” alongside Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, or agreed with Charles Bronson’s architect Dr. Paul Kersey’s idea of justice in Death Wish because cops were nowhere to be found. If there was one cop everybody loved, it was Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry because criminals gamed the system and got away with it, and Harry wasn’t having any of it. It’s a tossup as to which film showcased corruption in the Seventies better: Serpico or Prince of the City.
Beantown was right up there, in competition with the Windy City and the Big Apple. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, ATF agent Dan Foley is ambitious and working both ends against the middle, like his other informant, Dillon. Knowing what we know now about “Whitey” Bulger, he ran amok for decades through South Boston, thanks to corrupt FBI agent and handler, John Connolly. My Shane Cleary is no stranger or innocent to whatever his town has to dish out for crime, corruption, and other forms of treachery.
Boston has a long dark history. The greatest swindle in American sports history, the fixing the World Series in 1919, was cooked up in a room at Boston’s Buckminster Hotel, overlooking Kenmore Square. In that same year, the Great Molasses Flood, the cause of which was revealed to be shady and shoddy construction, killed 21 people. A year later, the Boston Police unionized, the idea formed over beers at Foley’s Café, blocks away from where Shane lives in Union Park in the South End. Governor Calvin Coolidge convinced the public that a strike of police officers was Bolshevism and un-American. He crushed the Police Strike and rode the victory into the White House. His reprisal was so effective and brutal that there was not another police strike in the nation until 1974.
History repeated itself with the Coconut Grove Fire in 1942, which killed 500 people. In the late Seventies, Symphony Road—a street in Boston and the title of my second Shane Cleary mystery—was home to an arson for-hire ring, which involved landlords, lawyers, insurance adjusters, and the Massachusetts State Police. City politicians looked the other way until state and federal officials investigated.
As for the virtues of those public servants…John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and grandfather to future JFK was removed from office in the US House of Representatives when evidence of voter fraud surfaced. Mayor James Curley ran Boston’s political machinery, like Al Capone controlled Chicago. The IRS put Al away in Alcatraz for tax evasion, and James spent time in Danbury for mail fraud, though federal lawyers wanted him for bribery and war profiteering. Mayor Kevin White, in office when Shane enlisted for Vietnam, was indicted and prosecuted for a variety of charges, including fraud, extortion, and perjury. He sat in the chair while Boston roiled in violence around desegregation and the busing crisis of 1974.
This is the world in which my PI Shane Cleary worked his cases. The cops didn’t like him and the politicians were often worse than the criminals he encountered on the street. The city’s elites were given carte blanche on prime real estate and other lucrative business deals, while everyone was at each other’s throat. Shane navigates social circles, murkier than the Charles River. He is up against cops dirtier than the Boston Harbor. The more things don’t change, the more they remain the same.
Praise for Symphony Road:“The second installment in this noir series takes us on a gritty journey through mid-seventies Boston, warts and all, and presents Shane Cleary with a complex arson case that proves to be much more than our PI expected. Peppered with the right mix of period detail and sharp, spare prose, Valjan proves he’s the real deal.” – Edwin Hill, Edgar finalist and author of Watch Her “Ostracized former cop turned PI Shane Cleary navigates the mean streets of Boston’s seedy underbelly in Symphony Road. A brilliant follow up to Dirty Old Town, Valjan’s literary flair and dark humor are on full display.” – Bruce Robert Coffin, award-winning author of the Detective Byron Mysteries “A private eye mystery steeped in atmosphere and attitude.” – Richie Narvaez, author of Noiryorican
Genre: Crime fiction, Procedural, Noir, Historical Fiction
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: January 15, 2021
Number of Pages: 232
Series: Shane Cleary Mystery, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
I went to cross the street when the wheels of a black Cadillac sped up and bristled over tempered glass from a recent smash-and-grab. The brake lights pulsed red, and a thick door opened. A big hulk stepped out, and the car wobbled. The man reached into his pocket. I thought this was it. My obituary was in tomorrow’s paper, written in past tense and in the smallest and dullest typeface, Helvetica, because nothing else said boring better.
Click. Click. “I can never get this fucking thing to light.”
It was Tony Two-Times, Mr. B’s no-neck side man. His nickname came from his habit of clicking his lighter twice. “Mr. B wants a word.”
“Allow me.” I grabbed the Bic. The orange flame jumped on my first try and roasted the end of his Marlboro Red. “You really oughta quit.”
“Thanks for the health advice. Get in.”
Tony nudged me into the backseat. I became the meat in the sandwich between him and Mr. B. There was no need for introductions. The chauffeur was nothing more than a back of a head and a pair of hands on the wheel. The car moved and Mr. B contemplated the night life outside the window.
“I heard you’re on your way to the police station to help your friend.”
“News travels fast on Thursday night. Did Bill tell you before or after he called me?”
“I’m here on another matter.”
The cloud of smoke made me cough. Tony Two-Times was halfway to the filter. The chauffeur cracked the window a smidge for ventilation. As I expected, the radio played Sinatra and there were plans for a detour. A string of red and green lights stared back at us through a clean windshield.
“A kid I know is missing,” Mr. B said.
“Kids go missing all the time.”
“This kid is special.”
“Has a Missing Persons Report been filed?”
The look from Mr. B prompted regret. “We do things my way. Understood?”
We stopped at a light. A long-legged working girl with a chinchilla wrap crossed the street. She approached the car to recite the menu and her prices, but one look at us and she kept walking.
“Is this kid one of your own?”
The old man’s hand strummed leather. The missing pinky unnerved me. I’ve seen my share of trauma in Vietnam: shattered bones, intestines hanging out of a man, but missing parts made me queasy. The car moved and Mr. B continued the narrative.
“Kid’s a real pain in my ass, which is what you’d expect from a teenager, but he’s not in the rackets, if that’s what you’re wondering. This should be easy money for you.”
Money never came easy. As soon as it was in my hand, it went to the landlady, or the vet, or the utilities, or inside the refrigerator. I’d allow Mr. B his slow revelation of facts. Mr. B mentioned the kid’s gender when he said “he’s not in the rackets.” This detail had already made the case easier for me. A boy was stupider, easier to find and catch. Finding a teenage girl, that took something special, like pulling the wings off of an angel.
“He’s a good kid. No troubles with the law, good in school, excellent grades and all, but his mother seems to think he needed to work off some of that rebellious energy kids get. You know how it is.”
I didn’t. The last of my teen years were spent in rice paddies, in a hundred-seventeen-degree weather—and that was before summer—trying to distinguish friendlies from enemies in a jungle on the other side of the planet. And then there were the firefights, screams, and all the dead bodies.
“Does this kid have a girlfriend?” I asked.
Mr. B said nothing.
“A boyfriend then?” That question made Mr. B twist his head and Tony Two-Times elbowed me hard. “I’ve got to ask. Kids these days. You know, drugs, sex, and rock’ n roll.”
“The kid isn’t like your friend Bill, Mr. Cleary.”
The mister before Cleary was a first. The ribs ached. I caught a flash of the driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Mr. B conveyed specifics such as height and weight, build, the last known place the kid was seen, the usual hangouts and habits. This kid was All-American, too vanilla, and Mr. B had to know it. Still, this kid was vestal purity compared to Mr. B, who had run gin during Prohibition, killed his first man during the Depression, and became a made-man before Leave It to Beaver aired its first episode on television.
The car came to a stop. The driver put an emphasis on the brakes. We sat in silence. The locks shot up. Not quite the sound of a bolt-action rifle, but close. Mr. B extended his hand for a handshake. I took it. No choice there. This was B’s way of saying his word was his bond and whatever I discovered during the course of my investigation stayed between us, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
“I’ve got to ask,” I said.
“I’ll pay you whatever you want.”
“It’s not that,” I said, feeling Tony Two-Times’ breath on the back of my neck. “Did you hire Jimmy C to do a job lately?”
“I did not.”
“And Bill called me, just like that?” I knew better than to snap my fingers. Tony would grab my hand and crush my knuckles like a bag of peanuts. A massive paw on the shoulder told me it was time to vacate the premises, but then Mr. B did the tailor’s touch, a light hand to my elbow. “Jimmy is queer like your friend, right?”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“When it comes to friends, you forgive certain habits, like I allow this idiot over here to smoke those stupid cigarettes. Capisci?”
“Yeah, I understand.”
“Good. Now, screw off.”
I climbed over Tony Two-Times to leave the car. Door handle in my grip, I leaned forward to ask one last thing, “You know about Jimmy’s predicament?”
“Ironic, isn’t it?” Mr. B said.
“I know everything in this town, except where my grandnephew is. Now, shut the door.”
The door clapped shut. I heard bolts hammer down and lock. There was a brief sight of silhouettes behind glass before the car left the curb. I had two cases before breakfast, one in front of me, and the other one, behind me in the precinct house. There was no need for me to turn around. No need either, to read the sign overhead.
The limestone building loomed large in my memory. Two lanterns glowed and the entrance, double doors of polished brass, were as tall and heavy as I remembered them. It was late March and I wasn’t Caesar but it sure as hell felt like the Ides of March as I walked up those marble steps.
Excerpt from Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2021 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.
One thought on “#GuestPost Crime and Corruption, Boston Style by Gabriel Valjan, author of “Symphony Road””
An interesting post. I learned quite a bit.