Tuesday, June 17, 2003

'Father' richly recalls mob days of Newport

Loveland writing team weaves mystery through '40s-era nightclubs and joints

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Authors Cathie and John Celestri, who write as Cathie John, in front of The Syndicate in Newport with an antique car representing Newport Police Chief George Gugel's car.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Newport in the 1940s was a rough-edged riverfront town. Dozens of illegal gambling joints. Brothels above York Street storefronts with the working girls leaning out of windows. Club owners torching the competition. Here and there a mob-style execution to keep everyone in line.

That's the world of Cathie John's In the Name of the Father, a novel set during the era when the city was nationally known for a laundry list of naughty reasons.

Those were the days when the Newport Nightgown was a fashion statement no one wanted to make but plenty did. It was a 55-gallon drum stuffed with a bad guy, filled with concrete and rolled into the river from the hill where Newport on the Levee now sits.

Celebrating the gruesome

It's a grim and gruesome world, but one gleefully celebrated in Father, the second Newport novel from Cathie John, pen name for Cathie and John Celestri, a Loveland husband and wife team who specialize in murderous fiction in a hometown setting. It's their fifth book.

And wonderfully good reading. Fast-moving, richly detailed, tense as all get-out, and laced with subplots that the Celestris weave ever more tightly as the book progresses.

Like 2001's Little Mexico, Father is fiction that is mostly well-researched non-fiction. It's populated with real people like Sleepout Louie Levinson, Pete Schmidt and Red Masterson going to real places like the Flamingo Club, Beverly Hills and Glenn Rendezvous where they do real things like pay off the cops and order their thugs to kill each others' thugs.

But Father is also populated by fictional souls, like hero Nick Cavanaugh, freshly home from World War II and working as a night watchman for the fictional Carl and Pearl Jules, owners of the glittering Oasis showroom and casino. In 1946 Newport, a night watchman at a casino has his work cut out for him. He also has his pick of the showgirls, but that's a different plot line.

In the main plot, somebody is bombing Newport's independent (non-mob controlled) casinos in the shank of the evening, killing and maiming the guests. Everyone from the cops to the other club owners are certain it's Masterson and his cronies in the Cleveland syndicate eliminating the competition.

Lots of maybes

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Maybe the formerly beautiful Jennifer Rome, her face lacerated to shreds when a bomb sends thousands of glass shards into it, will remember something when she comes out of her coma. Maybe the enormously stupid, enormously vicious Bruno will rat somebody out. Maybe the two thugs sent to torch the Oasis can shed some light if anyone ever finds them. So much hope for a solution, so many red herrings in the way. It's the stuff of good mysteries. Unfortunately, it keeps you reading at such a rapid clip that it's easy to overlook the local scenery or to savor your Newport-style walk on the wild side.

But force yourself to slow down. Take time to soak up the seedy ambiance of a dangerous world that existed one bridge span away from Cincinnati. Slow down and enjoy reading about names and places most of us have heard but never knew much about. Names and places that by now have taken on almost mythic proportions in the lore of Newport's bad old days.

In the Name of the Father

By Cathie John

CC Publishing/Journeybook Press; $23.95; 331 pages


E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com

Cathie and John Celestri will sign and discuss In the Name of The Father noon Wednesday at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., downtown, as part of the Mercantile's Home Team Literary Lunch Series. Free to members; $5 for non-members. Information: (513) 621-0717 or on the Web (www.mercantilelibrary.com)

'Father' richly recalls mob days of Newport
With foot thongs, you lounge in style
Street fashions borrow from the bedroom
Get to it!