You don’t have to be a hard-boiled Bostonian to enjoy Adam Abramowitz’s speed-crazed novel Bosstown, but it sure helps.
Funny and clever, with a motley cast of Beantown scruffs jostling for survival, power and fortune, the book updates the modus operandi of traditionalists like Mickey Spillane with a shiny, post-modern sheen.
Abramowitz, a teacher in New York (and the brother of Israel’s Captain Sunshine Yosef Abramowitz), grew up in the urban jungle of Boston’s South End and the working-class Alston suburb, and worked as a courier, doorman and mover. Those experiences provide the inspiration for Bosstown’s foundation, told from the point of view of Zesty Meyers, a wise-cracking, morally ambiguous but overall likable young bike messenger who falls into a world of gangs, cops, burglaries, dark family secrets and FBI informants – not necessarily in that order.
The book travels at a speed commensurate with Zesty’s bike skills, overflowing with hip noir and snappy, clipped street dialogue from sordid characters rapping out enough vernacular that it may take a couple of repeat readings of certain lines to comprehend what it is being said.
But it’s worth the effort, as Abramowitz’s plot development ties in all the disparate events and characters that flow out of the woodwork and ultimately leave the reader on the edge of his seat wondering how it’s all going to play out, and if Zesty is going to survive to ride another day.
It’s not the usual fare for a nice Jewish boy, but then again, not many gritty crime novels feature treatises on de Tocqueville or debates on the morality of militant organizations like the Weather Underground from the 1960s.
That’s not to say that Bosstown approaches anything close to highbrow fare – its heart is squarely in the gutter. But it’s a heart fueled by self-deprecating humor, insight into human character and ultimately, doing the right thing. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Bosstown being adapted as an HBO or Amazon mini-series with someone like James Franco in the lead.
Those familiar with Boston will likely enjoy the book with an extra measure, as Abramowitz brings to life the landmarks of the city and captures Boylston Street, the Big Dig and the Back Bay so vividly, you almost start talking without using ‘r’s.
The subplot involving the heralded Boston music scene is also accurate to the T, and music fans will appreciate the insider mentions of local heroes like The Neighborhoods, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters and WBCN’s Rock & Roll Rumble.
The clichés of hard-boiled detectives, basketball-crazy drug dealers and sleazy record producers are given a fresh turn by Abramowitz’s skill at dialogue. If it’s an updated twist on an old-fashioned whodunit that you’re looking for, Bosstown delivers the goods with a “Bawstin” accent.