Peter Maas Evan Hunter

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Evan Hunter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Until now, Peter Maas has concentrated on writing nonfiction, with admirable results…. We have come to expect from him a keen reportage that can evoke with equal sureness … the barren moonscape of a South Bronx street or the languid luxury of a northern Westchester tennis court. We have come to rely on his intimate knowledge of both law enforcement and criminal organizations in New York and elsewhere, an expertise again abundantly evident here. We have also come to trust the validity of his observations on the various real people he has written about. But "Made in America" is his first novel, and, liberated here from the constraints of writing about actual persons or events, he reveals a previously unsuspected capacity for creating flesh-and-blood characters and constructing an exciting, complicated plot.

His hero is Richie Flynn, a former football player for the New York Giants, who has one glorious season and one spectacular 93-yard run before a knee injury forces him into abrupt retirement and an unglamorous career as a beer salesman. To Richie comes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: If he can purchase from the city an abandoned synagogue in the Bronx, he can turn it into a day-care center, which he will then lease back to the city on a long-term basis and thereby realize an almost $2-million profit. There is just one problem: Richie needs $10,000 as a down payment on the building, and he cannot hope to borrow the money from any legitimate source.

Enter Albert "King Kong" Karpstein, surely one of the most frightening creations in recent fiction, a Jewish loan shark surrounded by colleagues who are Italian Mafiosi, a monster who is willing to lend Richie the money he needs, but only at his usual exorbitant and strictly enforced interest rates. There is no trifling with this terrifying giant, who demands "respect" as prerequisite to a loan. When Richie makes his Faustian deal with Karpstein, we begin praying for his salvation, even though we know that the inevitable moment of reckoning cannot be too far off. It comes sooner than Richie thinks. After a thoroughly exciting sequence during which he bids on and finally acquires the synagogue (Mr. Maas can make even a Borough of the Bronx real-estate auction suspenseful), Richie is forced to seek another loan, this time from a low-level hood, in order to meet his payments to Karpstein.

Word of this new loan reaches Hamilton Wainwright IV, the Special Prosecutor who is dedicated to nailing "Mr. F.D.," the city's number-one Mafia boss. It is Wainwright who completes the fateful triangle that inexorably leads to Richie's downfall. Unfortunately, Wainwright is not one of the book's brighter creations; his appearance weakens what might have been a shattering climax and blunts the point Mr....

(The entire section is 710 words.)