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Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom. Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers’ strike. He ran away again after accidentally—and fatally—dropping his infant son.
Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal, Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present.
You’ve never met a politician like Roscoe (or have you?): a suave Falstaffian in a double-breasted white Palm Beach suit, unscrupulous, brilliant, exploding with courtly romance. It’s V-J Day, the war’s over, and Roscoe, after twenty-six years as chief braintruster of Albany’s notorious political machine, decides to quit politics forever. But there’s no exit, only new political wars, mysterious death, self-destructive party feuds, and scandalous threats to his beloved and her family.
Roscoe, the chivalrous warrior, turns his own life, and everybody else’s, inside out to cope with the erupting disasters and finds fraudulence an extremely effective combat weapon. “Righteousness doesn’t stand a chance against the imagination,” he concludes. Every step forward leads Roscoe back to the past-to the early loss of his true love, his own peculiar heroics in the First World War, the takeover of city hall, the fight with FDR and Al Smith to elect a governor, and the methodical assassination…[more]