Thursday, August 17, 2017

Inside Job


Inside Job, by Nicholas Brady
No month stated, 1978  Leisure Books

“Nicholas Brady” was a Leisure Books house name that was used for a few standalone crime novels; this was the only time Len Levinson served under the name, and as mentioned earlierInside Job is now back in print under Len’s real name. I always figured Len would’ve turned in a nice ‘70s crime tale, and he doesn’t disappoint, though be aware Inside Job takes many of the typical trappings of the heist genre and turns them on their head.

Per Len’s comments below, this one takes place in a late 1970s New York that’s on the brink of bankruptcy and chaos. Mayor Ed Koch is taken through the ringer, constantly referred to as corrupt by the irate city workers who are suffering from the crooked antics of the city government. When we meet him, “hero” Michael Brody is unconcerned about the potential layoffs which might hit all city employees; Brody is a cop, in fact newly placed on the detective squad, and he figures cops will never get fired. He will be proven wrong, though.

Brody is a ‘Nam vet and busted his ass as a patrolman; he’s not even thirty and, as a plainclothes cop, he goes around in a brand name leather jacket. Brody has expensive tastes and also likes to indulge, quite often, with the wanton babes who go crazy for cops – we’re informed of a few Manhattan watering holes where a cop can quickly and easily pick up a woman who has expressly gone there for that very purpose. However Brody’s married and has two kids, one just a baby – not that this much stops him from screwing around. He laments that the fire has gone out of the relationship with his wife – she’s gotten so plump and looks so dowdy now that she’s had kids and Brody isn’t even attracted to her anymore. And they’re fighting a lot, to the point that Brody seldom goes back to their Queens home; when he does, he quickly leaves, to escape his wife’s nagging and the baby’s crying and etc, and will instead go find some slut for the night. So Brody’s sort of a self-involved asshole. 

The book opens with a nice action scene as Brody and his heavyset partner Ralph Shannon, a veteran of the force, bust a pair of Puerto Rican drugdealers, as well as their sexy moll. The trio try to bribe the cops, but neither Brody nor Shannon are having it – though Brody we learn was tempted. This will prove to be the only time we see Brody in action, as shortly thereafter – that is, after he’s had a one-night stand (of off-page sex, for shame) with some babe he picks up in a bar – Brody’s called into the office of his squad commander…Inspector Levinson.

A tall man with thinning hair and a “buzzard nose,” Inspector Levinson is Len once again appearing in one of his own pseudonymous novels, as he did in Butler #1. (“He was considered a very dappy guy,” Len informs us of the inspector!) Levinson breaks it to Brody that he’s been let go; orders are that every precinct has to let go their most junior members, no matter how good their track record. A dejected Brody goes back home, only for another fight to break out with his wife. This one’s the final nail, as she leaves him, taking the kids – there follows a sad part where he tracks his wife down to her mother’s home and tries to get the kids back and etc, but the kids don’t want him – they barely even know him – and he ends up getting in a fight with his brother in law. I say it’s a sad part but Len sort of plays it for laughs; at least I laughed out loud when, even in the middle of trying to get his kids back, Brody takes the opportunity to put down his wife for the unflattering clothes she’s wearing. 

Brody ends up chasing various go-nowhere job leads…he turns down a security guard job because he feels it’s beneath him, and the cops out in the sticks don’t want city cops because the locals don’t trust them. A few weeks later Brody bumps into a fellow fired cop, and an old ‘Nam pal to boot: Anthony Ricci. The two go out for burgers and beers and literally decide to become criminals over dinner. There’s no deep moment of introspection, of deciding if it’s worth it to pursue a life of crime. The two are all for it and eagerly begin discussing places they can rob. Brody’s the one who comes up with the idea of robbing the Property Room at police headquarters downtown, where all the confiscated cash, drugs, and etc are kept – millions of dollars there. What’s more, Ricci worked in the Property Room, so he could provide insider info on how to pull the job.

Now they put together the rest of their team, made up of former cops who also served in ‘Nam. First there’s Dennis Laganello, who now drives a taxi, then there’s Robert Hardesty, a “lapsed Black Muslim” who doesn’t get on very well with Brody. Whereas most heist novels will spend a goodly portion of the narrative on the plans of the heist, getting into details and timing and etc, Len spends two pages on it! Indeed the heist goes off without much fuss, other than when Hardesty shoots a cop who goes for his gun, and the cop later dies – one of the heist staples Len does cater to is that the heist ends up causing lots of problems.

In fact the property room theft itself only takes up a few pages of the novel, whereas Len will later spend around 30 pages on incidental dialog between some lady Brody hits on while buying a cabin up in the New England woods. As ever, Len is more interested in his characters than in the plot. At any rate the robbery is tense enough, despite the fact that Brody and pals screw silencers on their revolvers, tsk tsk. As mentioned Hardesty guns down a cop who happens to be in the property room during the heist, and while the noise isn’t heard, a with-it detective named Pelletier has already figured out something is going on, what with those strange “temporarily closed” signs outside the property room at two in the morning.

After the heist Brody and pals split, though Hardesty stays in New York. Pelletier spends six weeks investigating the case, and is certain it was an inside job. He eventually comes upon Anthony Ricci as being a prime candidate for part of the heist crew, given that he worked in the property room, was recently fired, would likely have a grudge, and has disappeared. Pelletier tracks him down to Florida where, working with Brody’s old partner Shannon, he busts the heister – and Ricci soon blabs about his comrades. This part features a great line, Pelletier threatening Ricci: “You’ll fry like a hot dog at Nedick’s.” (Nedick’s was a New York fast food chain known for its hot dogs – there was a location right on the tarnished glitz of 42nd Street.)

Meanwhile as mentioned Brody’s up in the woods, hitting on the sexy real estate lady in town. And no joke, Brody engages this woman in almost 30 pages of bonkers dialog, taking in everything from a guardian angel scam some local lady is running on the town church to Brody’s pressuring the gal into sex – and gradually achieving his goal, with the babe latching onto his “stiffening dong” for a somewhat-explicit sex scene.

With Ricci’s bust, the other heisters quickly follow suit; one of the few things I disliked about Inside Job was that the heisters, particularly Brody, disappear in the final quarter. While Brody was our protagonist in the opening, once the heist happens he heads up to New England, hits on the real estate broker, and drops out of the book, leaving new guy Pelletier to do the heavy narrative lifting. And Pelletier is more of a heroic character, determined to bring down these cop-killing heisters, but still – I like to end a novel with the character(s) I started out with. As it is, Brody meets his fate in a harried climax that doesn’t feel fulfilling at all. But then, that was likely Len’s point, that crime does not pay. 

Overall I enjoyed Inside Job, and I’d say it’s definitely worth reading for the Len Levinson fan, or someone looking for an unusual take on a ‘70s crime novel. As usual one feels Len was poorly served by his publisher; the novel, in the original Leisure edition, suffers from the expected typos, my favorite being when Brody’s wife Doris is mistakenly referred to as “Davis.” There’s also a bizarro part, which goes on for a few pages, where the editor writes “copy” instead of “cop!”

I asked Len for his thoughts on the novel, and he responded with a slight revision of the piece that he wrote for the recent reprint edition of Inside Job:

This novel began with a meeting back in the 1970s between editor Peter McCurtin and me in his office at Belmont-Tower publishing company on lower Park Avenue, New York City. He asked if I knew about the property room at NYPD headquarters. I replied that I’d heard of it but didn’t know many details. He explained that it was loaded with confiscated cash, jewels, drugs, furs and other items, and asked me to write a novel about a robbery of it. 

Peter showed me the artist’s mock up of the cover, whose copy line read: “The NYPD property room, bulging with millions in recovered cash, drugs, and jewels, is ripped off!” 

That was all I had to go on. So I went home and tried to figure out the novel. Who would be the characters? How could they pull off the heist? Why would they attempt such a dangerous enterprise? Would they get caught? 

That was back when Ed Koch was mayor and NYC was going bankrupt. Hordes of city workers were being laid off including cops, firemen, teachers, sanitation workers, etc. Crime was rampant. NYC seemed ungovernable. 

In that atmosphere, I decided that the perps would be four angry cops who’d been laid off. One actually had worked in the property room and knew how it functioned. But before the actual heist went down, I needed to establish who they were as human beings. 

Many of my own frustrations and disappointments were heaped onto the shoulders of poor Brody. The media always is regaling us with stories of successful people but it ain’t easy to be a loser which is what Brody and the others felt like and what I often felt like in those days. 

The four cops thought they were very smart guys. But intelligence is not enough when planning a complicated heist, because you can’t plan for everything. That’s why crime doesn’t pay most of the time. 

Brody, Ricci, Laganello and Hardesty were blinded by desperation combined with arrogance. They thought they could beat the system. But the system eventually beat them.

I recently re-read INSIDE JOB. It reminded me somewhat of Dostoyevsky, although I’m certainly not on his level. But there’s the same sense of despair, doom, and inevitability of divine justice.

Brody, Ricci, Laganello and Hardesty weren’t intrinsically evil, but became evil when their worlds were shattered. If they hadn’t been laid off, they probably would have continued their successful careers in law enforcement. All were tough guys, but too weak to withstand temptation.

I lived in New York City 42 years, arriving when I was 26 and leaving when 68. Now I’m in a small peaceful Midwestern town population 300, and have become aware that in comparison, an atmosphere of criminality constantly was in the air in NYC. One needed to be cautious at all times, otherwise one could become a crime victim.

I often read in the press about people from all walks of life engaging in major and minor rip-offs. I even personally met people engaged in illegal activities. Many New Yorkers simply didn’t respect the law, which resulted in New Yorkers from Wall Street to Mulberry Street to125th Street and all around town stealing, swindling and occasionally even killing if they thought they could get away with it. So in a sense the city itself was one of the perps, due to its widespread moral bankruptcy.

Mayor Rudy Guiliani and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton cleaned up the city to some extent. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley built upon their success. Now they’re gone and the city reportedly is sliding back into crime and violence.

If people were honest, we wouldn’t need so many police and so much government. But many people aren’t honest, unfortunately, and temptation is difficult to withstand in a city where many if not most residents consider traditional morality obsolete if not totally ridiculous. I believe that just about everyone could become a criminal if he or she were desperate enough, and the temptation strong enough, and the moral atmosphere conducive.

3 comments:

Drew Salzen said...

Great review and also great to read Len's comments. He's always pertinent and incisive about his own work, and the greater state of mankind. I guess you could say I like him, although that may be because I agree with him a lot of the time. I'll be looking out for this one amongst the reprints - I still have some of the e-book reissues of his work to come to in the great 'to be read' pile.

Been some great stuff on here lately, I've just been to preoccupied/lazy to comment (if I'm honest). Nice to read this alongside Justin's Men Of Violence 'zine, as there are precious few other places to indulge a passion for this old school style of paperback.

Len Levinson said...

Another outstanding review from Joe Kenney. Yes, someone getting shot during a hold-up is not a new concept in fiction, but not unusual in the real world of crime either. I thought the shooting was necessary to increase dramatic tension. In new paperback and ebook versions published by Destroyer, I cut drastically conversations between the cop and the real estate lady. I also shortened other overwritten, overwrought scenes. We live and learn, hopefully.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Len, as ever good to hear from you, and interesting to hear you whittled down some of that dialog. For what it's worth I found it all pretty entertaining, mostly because it was so off the wall and just kept going and going.

Drew, also good to hear from you -- thanks for the comments on the recent reviews. And I agree, Justin's magazines are great; I just received the two latest issues of Men of Violence but haven't gotten a chance to read them. And Len is very likable, I definitely agree with you on that!