Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Never Contract

The Never Contract, by David J. Gerrity
April, 1975  Signet Books

This was the first of three obscure novels David J. Gerrity wrote about infamous mob enforcer Frank Cordolini, a gray-eyed “wolf” who, now in his fifties, has been retired from the mob life for the past ten years. Living in upstate New York under a new name, with a wife and young son, Cordolini knows that it’s only a matter of time before his old life comes back for him. The Never Contract is the long-simmer tale of how this comes about.

Cordolini is almost like a guest star in his own novel. The narrative, especially at the beginning, focuses more on low-tier mobsters, in particular Eddie Rush and Peter Bergin. The latter has been contracted by representatives of Don Anthony Vicari in New York City to kidnap the son of Frank Cordolini, and Bergin wants Rush to do the job with him. But Rush, a perpetual loser, is wary of the job. We get lots of page-filling as Rush gets Bergin to go on a job with him, one that turns out to be a total bust. Meanwhile Bergin also employs some upstate radicals, a trio of revolutionaries lead by Jerry Roth, a self-styled Abbie Hoffman who has more in common with Charles Manson. Their job will be to watch Cordolini’s kid after he’s adbucted.

We also get a lot of material from Don Vicari’s perspective – Vicari is the son of the man who was Frank Cordolini’s don, but Vicari is nothing like his father. He’s psychotic, which we learn when in his opening scene he kicks a stray cat that’s just given birth on his oceanside property and, before her dying eyes, stomps her litter of kittens to death! We learn via snippets of backstory that Vicari actually killed his father, so as to take over the family empire; that was ten years ago, and was the reason behind Cordolini’s sudden departure from the hitman life. Like the other “old-timers” Cordolini despises the young Vicari and all he stands for; he knew it would only be a matter of time before Vicari junior would order his own death, so he split.

As for Frank Cordolini, he only appears sporadically for the first half of the novel. Cordolini is a ghostly figure in the underworld, nicknamed “The Wolf” and legendary for his brutality. In other words, he’s a younger, better looking Luca Brasi. I say “younger” but Cordolini is in his fifties at least (Gerrity mentions in one of the brief flashbacks that Cordolini was ten years old when the Depression set in), though Gerrity doesn’t make much of this in the narrative itself – in other words, there’s none of that “I’m too old for this” shit. Cordolini has lost his edge over the past decade, though; he suspects Don Vicari is finally going to try to have him killed, but Cordolini does nothing about it, other than gradually plan to take his family on vacation.

So really, there’s just a lot of plotting and dialog for most of The Never Contract, and Gerrity is along the lines of Dan Schmidt in how he wastes so many pages with several different characters planning to do something…and then taking forever to show them actually do it. The novel really has all the makings of being a trashy, sleazy classic – Don Vicari by the way also gets his kicks trussing up women and whipping them to death – but even this exploitative stuff is downplayed in favor of go-nowhere digressions and redundant character introspection.

When the novel finally achieves boil, however, it’s pretty good. The abduction of Cordolini’s kid doesn’t happen until toward the very end – the plan is, Bergin’s people will kidnap the boy, and when Cordolini comes out to get him Vicari’s men will kill Cordolini. But the incredibly annoying Jerry Roth, who dreams of himself as being “The Leader” of a post-revolutionary United States, takes over the job from the ineffectual Bergin and spirals the whole affair into chaos.

The old killing instincts slowly come back to Cordolini as he goes after the kidnappers. Even here though it’s a long-simmer affair, with Cordolini complying with their demands (getting ransom money, being at certain phone booths at exact times for their calls, etc) as he bides his time. This develops into a contest of wills between Cordolini and Roth, who doesn’t understand why this guy isn’t quaking in fear – none of the people Bergin hired for the kidnapping job (or Bergin himself) know who Cordolini is, or know of his past. Gerrity does a fine job here of making the reader despise these kidnappers so much that we look forward to Cordolini’s many promises that he’s going to make them suffer horribly before they die.

But man, talk about an anticlimax. Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. When Cordolini finally turns the tables, Gerrity welches on the blood-soaked finale he’s been promising throughout. There are several instances where Cordolini will think to himself how he’s going to skin Jerry Roth alive and etc, but when the big finale arrives…Cordolini walks into the kidnappers’s hideout with a shotgun and blows everyone away in the span of a sentence. That’s it! The reader has so grown to despise Roth that we want to see him carved up horrifically or something to pay for his deeds, but Gerrity fails to deliver, in a big way. Just as worse is the resolution with Don Vicari, another guy who deserves to get his just desserts; Gerrity puts on his fancy “Literary Artist” pants and ends the novel just as Cordolini has snuck up behind Cordolini, leaving what transpires next to the reader’s imagination.

As mentioned above, this wasn’t it for Cordolini; he returned the following year in The Plastic Man and then finally in 1977’s The Numbers Man, all of them paperback originals. Gerrity by the way was pals with Mickey Spillane, who endorsed this novel; Gerrity also published as “Dave J. Garrity” and also just plain “Garrity,” so I guess he must’ve really wanted to confuse his readers.

1 comment:

RJR said...

Garrity's DRAGON HUNT was a pretty good P.I. novel.