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Craig's Book Club
Book Recommendations

Spotlight on: Headstone City by Tom Piccirilli


To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.


Headstone City by Tom Piccirilli Tom Piccirilli, Headstone City

It's easy to admire Tom Piccirilli's versatility. Even though his novels often share certain themes, there is not one very much like another. Even more amazing is how he begins Headstone City in much the same way as his previous novel, November Mourns -- with a man returning home after some time spent in jail to find a task set before him -- yet decorates this simple plot device with a completely different motivation, setting, and cast of characters.

When his friend Vinny Monticelli's sister, Angelica, had a bad reaction to some recreational drugs, Johnny "Dane" Danetello attempted to drive her to the hospital in his cab, hitting a police officer on the way. Angelica died despite his efforts, and the killing of the police officer, especially considering Dane's already lengthy record, got him sent up for five years, and Vinny subsequently put a contract on his now ex-best friend.

Now Dane is back in town, talking to ghosts and trying settle an old score.

Author Tom Piccirilli's literary sense in Headstone City is phenomenal. Within the confines of the noir genre, he references Shakespeare, gangsters, and Old Hollywood, with room enough left for a subplot involving ghosts, dreams, and alternate realities (and don't worry -- he didn't leave out the "ill children" of his previous two novels, the aforementioned November Mourns and its predecessor, A Choir of Ill Children). And in the midst of all the darkness, there is still room for nostalgia (I got nostalgic myself upon reading the passage about "my mother's old forty-fives. With the little plastic thing in the middle so they'd fit on the record player").

Headstone City is by far the most purely enjoyable of the Piccirilli novels I've read. This could be his ticket to mainstream success, if given the proper promotion. It would most certainly make a terrific movie; the characters, setting, and plot cry out for a cinematic treatment. But the most impressive part is how it can be enjoyed on multiple layers: You can be completely entertained by the surface mafiosi-revenge-noir tale, or look deeper and find even more satisfaction by viewing "Dane" as a Hamlet-type (revenging his father's death while besieged by spirits).

Some readers have complained that Dane is a "passive protagonist" and I happen to disagree, believing that he is simply waiting for the right moment to act (much like Hamlet, who doesn't kill Claudius when he has the chance because Claudius is praying and would go to heaven -- Hamlet wants him not only dead, but damned, too -- so he waits, and that leads to his downfall). But, in any case, even when Dane isn't seemingly doing anything toward his end, so much is happening to him that it keeps the story moving smoothly. The supporting characters like Glory Bishop and Grandma Lucia provided at least half of my enjoyment of the book. Headstone City soars either way. It is truly a textbook example of how to combine an age-old plot with a well-worn genre and still manage to produce a novel that is completely cohesive and fiercely original.


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