Quick Read: Gangsterland

Literary critic Davd Kipen on UC Riverside professor Tod Goldberg’s pleasing new release

Writing well about criminals for law-abiding readers is something of a confidence game. The author imparts a few persuasive details, implies there are plenty more where those came from, and we sign a blank check for our credulity. The award-winning UC Riverside professor Tod Goldberg has this stratagem down. His latest novel, Gangsterland, follows a fugitive hit man from a Chicago bloodbath to a Las Vegas synagogue, where he emerges after plastic surgery as a junior rabbi to a rogues’ gallery of sonsabitches in Sansabelts. The setup is blackly comic, the plotting a tad rococo, the payoff grim but sly. Backdating the action just far enough to avoid the Internet (a defensible ploy, if by now overfamiliar), Goldberg’s new book is clever bordering on wise, like Get Shorty on antacid.