(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The characters in Motherless Brooklyn are both stock characters from hard-boiled detective fiction and parodied versions thereof. Frank Minna is a resourceful hood who recruits boys from St. Vincent's Home for Boys and transforms them into "Minna men," or crime apprentices. Frank is the father none of the boys have; he is their redeemer who gives them a new world to which they can belong: Brooklyn of the early 1970s. As Lionel puts it, "it was Minna who brought me the language, Minna and Court Street that let me speak." Like Lionel, Frank Minna delivers the puzzling language that makes the book operate. Frank has several signature phrases, including "wheels within wheels" which seems to refer to the "secret systems" that control Brooklyn, but could refer to a multitude of other social, psychological, and narrative systems as well. Another important line of Frank's is his advice to Lionel to "tell your story walking," advice which links not only storytelling and journeying, but storytelling and walking away. For Frank, telling one's story necessarily means leaving; he only has relationships with those who don't know his story. (Indeed, the story of Frank's life rather than his death is the true mystery of the novel.) In Motherless Brooklyn, Frank holds the secret knowledge that the boys desire: knowledge of his identity, knowledge of the true meaning of their work, the secrets of Brooklyn, knowledge of women, and secret knowledge of them, of who they are, reflected in his recognition of their worth. Frank himself is a mystery, however, one of the mysteries that Lionel must solve—the solution to the mystery that is Frank Minna leads,...

(The entire section is 675 words.)