bad and the beautiful coverRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Playing piano is David’s passion and he has teamed up with his cousin, Kate, to play the lounges in the Windy City. When Kate’s mobster paramour offers her a gig at a casino in Las Vegas, David jumps at the chance to accompany her. David wants to prove to himself—to his parents—that he can be financially independent as a professional pianist. The glitz and glamour of the nightlife draw David and he is happy to accept the generous hospitality his new boss extends to him as a way of wooing Kate. Not only does David appreciate how business is done in Sin City, he is usually left to socialize with Shorty, the wildly attractive bodyguard and sometimes hitman for David’s employer. David instantly feels a sharp attraction to the man. The feeling doesn’t subside even after he learns that Shorty is a nickname for Vincent Accardo, nephew of a powerful boss of the Chicago Outfit.

Vincent Accardo has been part of the Outfit for as long as he’s been alive. Despite his nickname, he is powerfully built and locals in Las Vegas know that he is no one to trifle with. Usually, Vincent doesn’t have a problem taking what he wants. And right now, Vincent wants David. But something about the nearly naive David keeps Vincent from just using the man. Rather, Vincent finds himself ponderously entertaining romantic ideas. That David isn’t put off by the sometimes gruesome requirements of his Vincent’s job, that David accepts that facet of Vincent without protest, certainly doesn’t hurt. But when a competing outfit starts making trouble for Vincent’s boss by indirectly threatening Kate and directly threatening David, action has to be taken. It leads to a pretty hot situation and the Outfit want to make sure their Las Vegas interests don’t fall into the hands of the Feds. What this means is that Vincent needs to disappear for awhile…but can he really walk away from David? Can David let him?

This is a republishing of a book that was first released in 2010 through Amber Quill press. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It is clear from the beginning that David and Kate are aware of and accepting of the role the mob plays in their professional and later, personal, lives. Though I am not a connoisseur of entertainment or news about organized crime, my general impression is that its representation in media tends to be fraught (“say hello to my little friend” and tommy guns in violin cases). I commend The Bad and the Beautiful for showing a slice of life in this world where there certainly are unsavory elements—like when Vincent carries out a hit on the leader of a rival group. But all the Outfit members intimately associated with David and Kate are shown as human. Kate’s beau seems to be over the moon smitten with her, constantly wining and dining her and including David in those invitations as well. Vincent appears on page as the picture of self-restraint, though his inner thoughts indicate he usually has little when he feels sexual attraction to someone (less clear was that he usually took advantage of women; the official blurb brought that to my attention). The overall effect painted a rather relatable image of this Las Vegas-based outreach of the Chicago Outfit.

The romance in this book unfolds a bit like a slow burn. Although David is almost immediately interested in Vincent, he is careful about making his interest known. The blurb states that this book is set in 1955, so it’s no wonder David would play his feelings close to the chest. On page, however, the only hint that this book does not take place in the present day is the single reference to the Moulin Rouge as being the “newest sensation” and that it was the first desegregated casino. I suppose the information that Vincent Accardo is the nephew of Chicago Outfit boss Anthony Accardo would also be a huge clue for history buffs—but it wasn’t until the mention of the hotel opening and the desegregation that I really saw the era reflected in the text. That said, when I went to look up Anthony Accardo and the Moulin Rouge, I was fascinated by these bits of history. I think Craig did a bang up job slyly incorproating a lot more history into the backstory that I realized and I appreciate being able to read such details and not immediately feel like authors are not just flexing their “we researched this” muscles.

But the romance. Part of the slow burn is obviously due to social conventions at the time. But there is also the fact that David feels the need to tamp down on his desire for someone who is probably straight and that Vincent feels more than mere sexual desire for David. Even when the two are in situations that would handily provide them the privacy to explore intimate relations, they refrain. Once they admit they are attracted to each other, however, they go at it like there’s no tomorrow. One of my favorite scenes incorporates David playing the piano while Vincent plays him. Here, too, I enjoyed how David’s being a piano player is incorporated into the very essence of the character. Later, when Vincent is being told he needs to make himself scarce, these two are so into one another that they are afraid of acknowledging just how far they’ve fallen…and try to stay away from one another. This denial of the depth of their feelings for one another forms the most thrilling (for want of a better word) element in the plot as far as I am concerned.

Overall, I found this story to be a great imagining of what life inside the day-to-day working lives of people who do organized crime for a living is like. It’s not constant high-stakes backstabbing and running from the police. Kate’s mob boss boyfriend is almost comic in his efforts to court and woo her. All the while, David understands and accepts that this world is where he exists and he doesn’t go to pieces over it so much as feels protective over Vincent because of it. All in all, I loved how the drama here felt relatable even as the events unfolded in the unmistakable world of organized crime.

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