Small-time hood Frank Hearn makes it out of Irby’s previous Prohibition-era caper novel 7,000 Clams with his skin fundamentally intact and the love of a really terrific dame, but (no spoiler, really) without enough scratch to give her the kind of life he wants to. So in this sequel he goes straight and tries to make some honest dough on the titular “up and up,” — but it turns out that keeping his nose clean in the booming and busting Florida real-estate market isn’t as easy as it might seem, no matter how good his intentions. Also, staying on the good side of the cops is tough when many of them are in the pocket of the local big-time hoods. So pretty soon Frank finds himself in a right old mess where both his fundamentally intact skin and the love of the terrific dame are in serious jeopardy.
As in the prior novel, Irby seamlessly melds real historical figures like Harvey Firestone, Joe Kennedy, Gloria Swanson, and her third husband Henri de La Falaise into his fast-moving, twist-filled plot. Also as in the previous book, Irby leans hard on coincidence, mostly to establish connections between his upper- and lower-crust characters, but that bugged me less this time. Once again, there’s enough accurate historical detail that the reader could learn a few things without it ever getting intrusive.
One feature I didn’t mention when I wrote about 7,000 Clams is that sometimes there’s an additional level of irony. Some of Irby’s descriptions of 1928 could easily apply to other years up to and including 2009, viz a northern society lady’s first glimpse of a swank hotel:
[She] joylessly trudges through the well-appointed lobby of the Flamingo Hotel located on the bay side of Miami Beach. It is a huge, hulking barn of pink stucco, with a decor that strikes her as relentlessly Florida: pastels, marine life, palm fronds. Everything is bigger than it needs to be, glossy to the pint of smarmy, overbearing in its irrepressible invitations to “have fun” and “relax,” and above all dedicated to the haughty display of wealth. Why wear one necklace when six will do just fine? These sunburned barbarians talk loudly, guffaw like baboons, and careen about like they have been jolted with electricity.
(7,000 Clams similarly featured a brief trip to a Baltimore cop bar that was almost like a scene from The Wire.)
Here’s my most telling reaction to this book: If Irby writes another novel about Hearn, I’ll certainly read it. But I hope he doesn’t — I hope he finds some other improbably charming lowlife to write about instead — because I’d like to think that after the conclusion of The Up and Up Hearn might get to live out the rest of his days without anything especially suspense novel-worthy befalling him.
needs more demons? nossir.