William (Billy) Phelan
William (Billy) Phelan, a young gambler and bookmaker. Billy Phelan is a pool hustler and a familiar figure among Albany’s shadowy nighttime crowd. A gambler with a gift for sizing up his opponents, he earns his living on the fringes of society but in the center of a netherworld in which he moves comfortably and securely. He operates as a bookie with the permission of the powerful McCall family. When the McCalls ask him to perform a service for them that would violate his personal code of ethics, Billy must decide where his allegiance lies.
Martin Daugherty, a newspaper columnist and Billy’s friend. Martin has spent his life in Albany and grew up next door to Billy’s father. A journalist in the Damon Runyon tradition, he is at ease with mobsters, gamblers, and prostitutes. He sometimes has accurate visions and premonitions. He is the son of a successful playwright, and he struggles throughout the book with his conflicting feelings toward his father. Martin plays a central role in Billy’s story, both by placing a bet with him that leaves Billy sorely in need of money and by chronicling the events surrounding Billy’s confrontation with the McCalls.
Francis Phelan, Billy’s father, an alcoholic drifter. Francis abandoned his family when Billy was nine. His reappearance in Albany after years of aimless drifting forms one of the book’s important subplots. Billy grew up without his father’s guidance, and his meeting with...
(The entire section is 641 words.)