With the title, Appointment with ISIL, the reader knows Anthony Provati will meet up with the terrorist organization that now controls sections of the Middle East and Africa.
Yet, how he gets there, both literally and figuratively, in the way of plots, subplots and characters, is where Joe Giordano’s latest novel shines page after thrilling page.
New York was once dominated by Italians, as Giordano showed in his previous work Birds of Passage. The author is most proud of his Italian heritage. In Appointment with ISIL, he retains the roots of his ethnicity only through the exploits of main character Anthony Provati. This is today’s New York where a mix of ethnicities range throughout every borough of the city and Giordano captures the mosaic in all its flaws and glories.
The novel begins with Provati playing piano at a bar in the West Village when suddenly in walks a beautiful woman named Sophia, who is a Greek native from the island of Crete, accompanied by her boyfriend, Gorgon Malakhov, a Russian immigrant and member of the Russian mafia. This sets up the arch of the novel after both Provati and Sophia fall for each other. Enraged, Malakhov orders his bodyguard to rough up Provati, who it turns out is no stranger to street fighting and gets the better of the brute. Vengeance is in order and Provati now has a price on his head. To save himself, he must do a “favor” for Malakhov, which entails stealing priceless artworks. It is here in the novel where the author has fun with the Russian gangster. Malakhov is reminiscent of Nero, a psychopath with a playful outlook. When he considers his girlfriend, he says, “Attraction to my lovely angel is natural. The devil dipped Sophia in honey.” And when he considers why he came to the United States, he says, “When I left prison, I joined a gang and moved up the ranks until I accumulated so many enemies that I decided to find new hunting grounds. That’s when I immigrated to this wonderful country. The American Dream, Mr. Provati. I intend to steal it.”
The interchange between Provati and Malakhov sets up the plot with a myriad of colorful characters, ranging from a Russian Jewish con artist, a corrupt Irish American police detective, and a Columbian drug dealer. How we go from there to the dangers of ISIL makes for an enormously entertaining and engaging novel by Giordano.
A crime thriller that evolves into one of international intrigue runs the risk of becoming droll and monochrome. Giordano’s writing, however, is so clever and agreeable, that the reader keeps turning pages just for the prose alone. We are spellbound by the work. The author, no doubt, has a love for such literary icons of the past as Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and James M. Cain. In the first-person narrative, in the voice of Provati, he comes up with witty treatises to follow the actions of urban characters. It is a jewelry story of prose. Such as when he conveys why a Russian mobster was embraced in New York high society: “Malakhov developed a theory on his popularity; he was the High Priest of the new morality. Elites eschewed absolute rights and wrongs. For them, rules didn’t apply. Only if you were caught was it bad. Bounce back like a clown punching toy, smiling through the storm that eventually blew over. Narcissus was the model. Conscience and embarrassment were for losers.”
Giordano is smart to choose a character such as Provati as the foundation to build his novel. Most likable, Provati is someone we all knew from spending time in New York. He is of the city, born and raised there. He is surprisingly laid back. He is adaptable and agreeable and must rely on his wits and his ability to get along with others. He is New York wise; a survivor of a dysfunctional family. It is a hard mix of pain and love when he looks back at a fistfight with his father. “The fright my father showed when I held him up against the wall robbed him of his dignity. A son should never see his father afraid.” He understands the crux of their relationship. “Occasionally, he was civil to me. I translated his attention into affection. I desperately drank of it the way a parched wanderer squeezes liquid from a cactus in the desert.” When he recalls the story of his mother, who as a girl, recovered a bike from the trash, we know the hard truth he learned. “Coasting down a steep hill, the bike squealed under the stress until corrosion buckled the frame, and my mother was slammed to the concrete tumbling onto rusty nails and broken glass. Her parents thought it served her right for frittering away time. My mother’s face was testimony that seeming good fortune can rip you for life.”
Appointment with ISIL is a home run by Giordano. The book will grasp a reader’s attention on every page. The characters, the plot and prose come together for an outstanding work of contemporary Americana. PRIMO highly recommends Appointment with ISIL.
– Truby Chiaviello, Editor Primo Magazine