ANTHONY BOURDAIN – Bone in the Throat. Villard, hardcover, 1995. Bloomsbury, paperback, 2000.

   Bourdain is Chef at one of Manhattan’s “hotter-than-hot” new dining spots, and this is his first novel. I sort of expeted another cozy food book and almost skipped it. Turned out it wasn’t, though.

   Tommy Pagano isn’t one of the Boys, but he’s related to them. He’s sous chef at a restaurant in Little Italy controlled by his uncle Solly the Wig, who definitely is one of the Boys. Not one of the big boys, and not too highly thought of, but one of them. The Feds are after Solly and his boss, Charley Wagons, and they’re watching and turning everybody in sight.

   The owner of he restaurant is wearing a wire and trying to keep everybody happy. Tommy gets dragged into the mess when he’s made an unwilling witness to some bad business by his uncle, and his dreams of becoming a big-time chef give way to nightmares about being a small-time con. Or maybe even a no-time-left corpse.

   This was not a cozy, or even a “humorous” look at mob life. It’s got sort of a wry tone and a couple of the characters were a little exaggerated, but it would take a pretty odd sense of humor to call it funny.

   The cooking background is interesting and not overdone, and Tommy Pagano is both a realistic and likable character. I don’t know anything about the Mafia, but these hoods seemed pretty genuine. Bourdain tells a good story with crisp dialog and well-drawn, if mostly sleazy characters, and I liked this.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.