FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE PRIME ROLL BY EUGENE IZZY!
In anticipation of my first trip to Chicago earlier this year, I dug out my copy of The Prime Roll by the intense and tragic Eugene Izzy, the master of all things Chicago. It was as good the second time around as the first.
Izzy’s suicide/accident/murder (left hanging by a rope from the flagpole outside his 14th story Chicago office) deprived us of a writer whose understanding of both east coast cops and crooks was as sharp and incisive as any writer before or since.
The first half of The Prime Roll is set in Chicago before transferring the action to Atlantic City. There Izzy turns his piercing vision to the east coast gambling scene with the same understanding of grifter humanity he works on his Chicago characters.
“Is there some problem?” Lano said, and the smiling pit boss assured him there was not. They were just waiting for the photographer in case he hit his eleventh blackjack, so they could have a nice picture to hang on the wall for other hopeful gambler’s to drool over.
The pit boss smiled, and Lano told him, “forget the picture. Let the woman deal.” The pit boss was about to say something smart, Lano could tell, when he looked up. His expression changed, and he said, “Good evening, Mr. O’Shea, Mr. Lynch.”
Lano didn’t bother to even turn on his stool, never took his eyes from the pit boss. He said softly, “you can change dealers, you can shuffle new decks, you can wait for picture-takers, and you can wait for hell to freeze over, because mister, my next hand is a blackjack and nothing’s gonna stop it from coming.” He turned now, stared hard at Brian O’Shea – that was him all right, the son of a bitch from last night – before saying, “Tell the woman to deal, please,” and heard O’Shea say, “Well, you heard the man, honey, deal them cards.” Lano admired the guy, about to lose a million and sounding like a cheerleader for him.
The dealer stepped back into her spot and a roar went up from the crowd as the other bettors around the table demurred, didn’t bet. The they fell silent as the game began. It was Lano and the dealer, the gambler on a roll against the house and the first card she dealt to Lano was the king of spades and then she dealt her first card down. When she slipped his second card from the shoe, Lano said, “Come to me,” softly but with emotion, now clenching a fist and holding it up and shouting, “YEAH!” as she dealt him the ace of hearts and the casino went mad.”
– The Prime Roll
Chicago gambler Juliano – Lano – Branka is on a lucky streak, a once-in-a-lifetime prime roll with all the breaks going his way. But Lano defies Mafia big shot Tough Tony, and Lano's uncle, Artie the Arm, sends Lano to Atlantic City until Artie can settle Tony's hash with capo di capi Mad Mike.
Top Atlantic City mobster Angelo Briari is suspiciously cordial to Lano, who fears a setup, possibly for the rub-out of an A.C. union head. Meanwhile, the murdered union chief's brother, a police detective from Ohio, blows into town bent on vengeance.
Eugene Izzy knew his Chicago, he knew his mobsters, he knew his cops. He knew how to tell a story. Check him out and get your hardboiled freak on.