THE FAST BUCK is one of those books that drops you right down in the middle of the action and lets you catch up as you go along. Joe Chicagano, also known as Joe Chicago, is a down-on-his-luck prizefighter who gets involved with the Mob following World War II. He’s not much more successful as a hood than he was as a boxer, and as this novel opens, he’s regaining consciousness on the floorboard of a car being driven by a beautiful woman he calls Legs, because that’s all he can see of her as he comes to. He’s been beaten up and as the mysterious woman shoves him out of the car into the gutter, all he knows for sure is that somebody stole ten thousand dollars from him, and he’s going to get it back no matter what it takes. Then he discovers that the police think he died in a fiery car crash the night before. When he starts trying to figure out what happened to him and find out who took his money, people he talks to have a habit of being murdered in circumstances that make the cops think he’s the killer. Joe’s not the smartest guy in the world and he knows it, but he’s extremely stubborn – and he wants his money back.
From here the author really piles on the complications, packing several competing groups of mobsters, stolen gems that were looted during World War II, numerous murders, boxers, and actors into not much more than 40,000 words, if that. The headlong pace of this book is its real strength, along with the occasional good line and some vividly sordid descriptions of various lowlifes and their environment. Don’t mistake this for some sort of lost classic, though. It’s not. The writing, for the most part, is too unpolished and awkward for that. As far as I’ve been able to determine, Ross Laurence wrote only this one book. I wondered at first if the name was a pseudonym for an author better known under some other byline, but I don’t think so. THE FAST BUCK really reads like a first novel, with flashes of real talent struggling to get out through the amateurish writing. If anyone knows more about the author, I’d be really interested to hear it. I wouldn’t rush out to find a copy of this book, but if you run across it, it’s worth reading for the unrealized potential you can see in the author, if for no other reason.
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