Don’t be fooled by the title - it’s just a gangster moniker. Elmore Leonard fans are going to love Stella’s entirely original contribution to the slice-of-criminal-life genre, down-and-dirty division. After the release of Deep Throat, the low-budget porn flick starring Linda Lovelace that captured the hearts and genitals of a nation, as well as making a substantial amount of cash, the Mob suddenly realizes that the legal situation in 1973 makes “fuck movies” viable and highly marketable to the masses. It’s no longer necessary to show them in rented warehouses. So enter entertainment purveyor and bagman John Albano, soon rechristened “Johnny Porno,” and a cast of gangsters all recruiting “talent” and following the money. This is the seventh novel from Stella (Mafiya, 2008), who has made the underside of the New York underworld his home. —Elliott Swanson (Booklist)
Somebody Dies says:
John Albano is behind on his child support. To that end, he needs to make quick money, and his car-driving job isn't cutting it. Luckily, he's come into a job running bootleg copies of the newly banned porn film Deep Throat (labeled as "Peter Rabit," misspelling and all) between Brooklyn and Long Island, collecting the receipts from the head-counters at the box office (five dollars for each patron), and giving the proceeds to the mob guys who "bought" the movie (actually, forced the film's writer/director Gerard Damiano out of their partnership).
For this, he is paid fifty dollars a day — and these are 1973 dollars. The guy who did it before him got the nickname Tommy Porno, but he was caught stealing and turned up dead with his hands cut off. So now they call Albano Johnny Porno, and he doesn't like it.
Meanwhile, John's ex-wife Nancy's first ex-husband Louis — whom she cheated on John with, and is cheating on her third husband with, too (are you keeping up?) — has hatched a plan to rob John of the mob's money when John comes to make his weekly child support payment to Nancy, with her help.
Louis owes four thousand dollars to his shylock and his bookie. He keeps looking for his next score but can't cut his nickel bags any more than he already does, or they'll start smelling like an Italian dinner. But Louis is a full-time con artist and philanderer loaded with ideas for whatever can make him an easy buck.
At the same time, Albano is also being pursued by police. Captain Billy Hastings, forced to retire when he took a swing at Albano and got knocked out for his trouble, is bent on revenge. And a duo is trying to clean the porn off the streets by investigating John's boss, Eddie Vento. Author Charlie Stella keeps all these subplots up in the air simultaneously without ever dropping a single ball.
Stella was raised in Brooklyn and spent 18 years making money wherever he could (legally or otherwise, much like his protagonist), so he knows the crowd he writes about. He wrote his first novel, Eddie's World, to impress his current wife, and he has steadily grown a following for his intelligent and astute books about criminals, receiving starred reviews from Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.
Inspired by a viewing of the documentary Inside Deep Throat — Stella and his wife looked at each other and said "Next book" — Johnny Porno, Stella's seventh novel, is a terrific crime epic from this woefully underknown author. It is loaded with a cast of quirky losers, layabouts, and louts, with the one shining star being John himself. It's the got the kind and number of characters that director Robert Altman liked to juggle, and I like to think it could have been his 1973 crime film if he hadn't decided to reimagine Philip Marlowe with The Long Goodbye.
Based on my experience with Johnny Porno — I haven't read his other books but plan to remedy that soon (Charlie Opera is $2.00 on Smashwords) — I must say that Charlie Stella is one of the best writers the crime genre currently has to offer. He's a natural wordsmith, putting down the way people really talk in a way that still reads smoothly — not an easy task. The fact that Stark House Press, who previously focused on reprinting "lost" pulp novels, chose Stella as their first original author — after author Ed Gorman recommended him upon reading the manuscript — says a lot about his peers' respect for him. —Craig Clarke (Somebody Dies)