Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A New Isaac Sidel Novel for Review

Today I bring you a review for Under the Eye of God, the most recent novel in a mystery series by Jerome Charyn - his famous, gunslinging character, Isaac Sidel.  With no further adieu, let's get started!

Under the Eye of God Book Summary:
After decades of madness in the Bronx, Isaac Sidel visits the craziest state in the country.

Isaac Sidel is too popular to be America's vice president.  Once the New York Police Department commissioner, he became the most beloved mayor in the city's history - famous for his refusal to surrender his Glock, and for his habit of disappearing for months at a time to fight crime at street level.  So when baseball czar J. Michael Storm asks Sidel to join him on the election's Democratic ticket, the two wild men romp to an unprecedented landslide.  But as the president-elect's mandate goes off the rails - threatened by corruption, sex, and God knows what else - he tires of being overshadowed by Sidel, and dispatches him to a place from which tough politicians seldom return:  Texas.

In the Lone Star state, Sidel confronts rogue astrologers, accusations of pedophilia, and a dimwitted assassin who doesn't know when to take an easy shot.  If this Bronx bomber doesn't watch his step, he risks making vice-presidential history by getting killed on the job.

My Review:
There were several things I really enjoyed about this book.  It had the expectation of one of the old "noir" movies of yesteryear, with the mob, the femme fatale, and our lone (and lonely) hero.

The idealism of the protagonist, Isaac Sidel, was refreshing.  He was portrayed as a man of principle, though not above using the lower elements outside the law to stand up for what is right.  Isaac doesn't spend much time worrying about what the pundits will think of his actions - he does what needs to be done.  Even so, he never devolves into a caricature of the proverbial "knight in shining armor".  We still have opportunity to see his flaws, which makes him more relatable to the human element we all endure.  Too bad we never see a politician like him.

The political arena of the book reflects the reality that both sides of the aisle are neither all good nor all evil.  This was an element I thought was well portrayed, that it's still politics as usual when it comes to Washington D.C., regardless of which party Isaac attaches to at any given time.  Isaac remains true to who he is, not beholden to any particular group or the machinations behind the scenes.  Sometimes his idealism gets him into trouble with both sides, but Isaac is first and foremost a man of the law, Old West style.  He even totes his gun around with him everywhere he goes, to the chagrin of the Secret Service - funny at times!

Another favorite character wasn't a true character at all.  The Ansonia (a very real, iconic New York City hotel/apartment building), with its seventeen floors of circular living rooms and windows of etched glass, was a standout.  The descriptions of the Ansonia and her occupants, both in her hey-day and the present, were intoxicatingly rich.  It made me want to drop everything and fly to New York to take a tour and relive her glory days - "sigh" - I miss New York City!  I loved it when the character, David Pearl, says, "Every time I'm on the stairs, with the wrought-iron rails, it's like having my own little piece of Europe."

Without having read any of the previous Isaac Sidel novels, however, I felt lost in the constant shuffle of characters.  There were so many secondary characters thrown in, with little to no description of their purpose to this particular story, that I was continually frustrated.  It left me with the impression throughout that these may have been key people in prior novels in the series, but here they just seemed to get in the way.  Most of the time their inclusion spurred actions without any defined motivation or understanding of why they reacted the way they did.  Without a clear idea of the characters and their internal motivations, it made the action mindless.  Then just as soon as these characters appeared - poof! - they were gone again.

Though I love history and reliving certain elements of how actual history ties into this story (especially when it came to the Ansonia), there was too much jumping back and forth between past and present with little transition.  Many times the lack of transition made reading jarring, and I'd have to go back to see where I was before the flashback then flash forward to regain my footing.

The supposed big fight near the end was anti-climactic, mainly due to yet another previously unknown character being thrown into the mix.  We had his introduction, the fight, and then the cleanup within a few paragraphs.  It left me dissatisfied, again with the desire for even a basic understanding of internal motivations to make the "fight" have meaning.  I just wanted more.

Overall, I would recommend this novel only if you take the opportunity to first read the other Isaac Sidel books in the series.  Armed with that necessary background, Under the Eye of God might have been a more enjoyable addition.

Jerome Charyn's Bio:
Jerome Charyn (b. 1937) is the critically acclaimed author of nearly fifty books. Born in the Bronx, he attended Columbia College, where he fell in love with the works of William Faulkner and James Joyce. After graduating, he took a job as a playground director and wrote in his spare time, producing his first novel, a Lower East Side fairytale called Once Upon a Droshky, in 1964.

In 1974 Charyn published Blue Eyes, his first Isaac Sidel mystery. Begun as a distraction while trying to finish a different book, this first in a series of Sidel novels introduced the eccentric, near-mythic detective and his bizarre cast of sidekicks. Charyn followed the character through Citizen Sidel (1999), which ends with his antihero making a run at the White House. Charyn, who divides his time between New York and Paris, is also accomplished at table tennis, and once ranked amongst France’s top Amazon10 percent of ping-pong players.  Visit his website at http://www.jeromecharyn.com

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Price: $14.99
Release: October 30, 2012

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  1. Great review!

    The seires sounds interesting. I'm unclear if I should start with the book written first in the series in the 70's, though--and if it's still in print? Also, I don't see that it's available in eBook. I'd jump on it if it were.

    Again, this was a very thorough review! I'll go to the author's website and on Amazon and check it out.

    1. Oops! Blue eyes and Under the Eye of God are in eBook!

    2. It be great if they could all be re-released as eBooks. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Gordon.

    3. Gordon, you're in luck! The entire Isaac Sidel series is available in ebook format. Please check out this link:


      I hope you enjoy reading them all :)

  2. D A, you had me yearning for the old glory days of New York too with your review. No one writes New York City like Jerome Charyn, that's for sure. Thanks for taking the time to read/review his latest :)

  3. You had me at "Sidel confronts rogue astrologers". Where can I vote for this guy? It sounds like Under the Eye of God has got some laughs in it. I'll check out the Sidel series.

    1. This would probably be up your alley, Gary. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. Hey, everyone, great comments, awesome review. Come visit us on Isaac Sidel's Facebook home: www.facebook.com/IsaacSidel - all 11 Isaacs are available as eBooks and one by one they are also being reprinted as paperbacks (leading up to the launch of Hard Apple, the animated TV drama based on Jerome Charyn's characters.) Each book of the Sidel saga works as a stand-alone, but they're all better together - and I bet you can't read just one. Write me for promo copies: JCPress@writemail.com (Isaac Sidel offers protection from the Mob FREE with purchase of the whole list.)