Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Button Man

Summary: After a string of New York Times bestselling suburban thrillers, Andrew Gross has reinvented himself as a writer of historical thrillers. In his latest novel, Button Man, he delivers a stirring story of a Jewish family brought together in the dawn of the women's garment business and torn apart by the birth of organized crime in New York City in the 1930s.

Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabishevsky grew up poor and rough in a tiny flat on the Lower East Side, until the death of their father thrust them into having to fend for themselves and support their large family. Morris, the youngest, dropped out of school at twelve years old and apprenticed himself to a garment cutter in a clothing factory; Sol headed to accounting school; but Harry, scarred by a family tragedy, fell in with a gang of thugs as a teenager. Morris steadily climbs through the ranks at the factory until at twenty-one he finally goes out on his own, convincing Sol to come work with him. But Harry can't be lured away from the glamour, the power, and the money that come from his association with Louis Buchalter, whom Morris has battled with since his youth and who has risen to become the most ruthless mobster in New York. And when Buchalter sets his sights on the unions that staff the garment makers' factories, a fatal showdown is inevitable, pitting brother against brother.

This new novel is equal parts historical thriller, rich with the detail of a vibrant New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, and family saga, based on Andrew Gross's own family story and on the history of the era, complete with appearances by real-life characters like mobsters Louis Lepke and Dutch Schultz and special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, and cements Gross's reputation as today's most atmospheric and original historical thriller writer. -- Minotaur Books

I'm pretty sure that I've never reviewed a book quite like BUTTON MAN by Andrew Gross for my  Mystery Mondays feature. However, this book is being called a historical thriller... and therefore it counts. (It's my weekly feature so I can determine that, right?) As the description above says, BUTTON MAN is part historical thriller and part family drama -- two of my favorite genres!

BUTTON MAN tells the story of a Jewish family in the 1920s and 30s whose lives are turned upside down when the Jewish mob inserts itself into their lives. Morris, Sol and Harry are three brothers in the Rabishevsky family. The Rabishevsky family was poor; and Morris, the youngest brother, was forced to quit school and start working at a clothing factory when he was only twelve years old. Sol, the eldest brother went to accounting school, while Harry fell in with a neighborhood gang.

When Morris reached 21, he decided to go into business with Sol making economical women's coats; however, Harry felt more comfortable with the mobster Louis Buchalter, Morris' enemy from childhood. Eventually, Harry joins his brothers but he still is drawn to the money and power of the mobsters.

The Jew mob has set its sight on garment workers, and Morris and Sol have stood up to them time and time again... even when their friends are getting hurt by these same mobsters. As tensions rise, it becomes clear that Harry will have to make a difficult decision that will affect not only the company but his brothers as well.

I enjoyed BUTTON MAN quite a bit. It reminded me a bit of some books that I read years ago when I was obsessed with reading anything (fiction or non-fiction) about New York mobsters. I found the history of the garment workers, the unions, and the mobsters to be fascinating; and I appreciated how the author incorporated so many real characters into the story. The historical aspect alone of this novel made it a worthwhile read.

However, what brought BUTTON MAN to the next level for me was the family saga part of the plot. I appreciated how the author developed these characters by providing some background stories about their childhood, and I enjoyed the interactions between the three very different brothers. I especially liked Morris' strength and determination and found his rags to riches story to symbolize the American Dream.

BUTTON MAN was an entertaining (and educational!) read. I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction as well as readers who enjoy family sagas and mob stories!

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I used to read a lot about the mob, too, so I think I'd like this a lot.