Today I am delighted to be helping to kick off the first day of the blog tour for the release of the box-set for the Alex Cohen Series books 1-3 by Leopold Borstinski organised by Damppebbles Blog Tours. I thoroughly enjoyed the second and third books in the series, and you will find those reviews below as well, and I was glad for the opportunity and motivation to go back and read the first book in the series in The Bowery Slugger. I hope that you will check out the author and this fantastic series, as well as the rest of the wonderful bloggers participating in this tour.
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
Three decades in the life of Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen, as he arrives in the US and forges a life for himself and his family using the blood, sweat and tears of those who stand in his way.
This digital box set contains the first three books in the saga of Alex Cohen’s life:
The Bowery Slugger: When Alex Cohen arrives in 1915 America, he seizes the land of opportunity with both hands and grabs it by the throat. But success breeds distrust and Alex must choose between controlling his gang and keeping his friend alive. What would you do if the person you trusted most is setting you up to die at your enemies’ hands?
East Side Hustler: Alex returns from the Great War almost destroyed by the horrors he has experienced. When he is plucked from certain death by an old friend, he commits to making so much money he’ll never know that agony again. But the route to the top is filled with danger and every time he helps one of his powerful friends like Al Capone, he acquires more enemies who want to see him dead. The turmoil caused by the death of organised crime financier, Arnold Rothstein means Alex must once more fight for his life. How far would you go to seize the American dream? And could you protect your family along the way from the fellas who want to see you dead?
Midtown Huckster: Alex runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends. If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?
***** ***** *****
The Bowery Slugger:
In typical fashion, I actually read this one – the first in the series – last. The Bowery Slugger is a little slow to get off the ground, but I largely put that down to this being the first book and having to lay the groundwork for the characters, especially Alex and his arrival in America and finding his feet there and once again Borstinski’s research and attention to detail shine through, creating a vivid, breathing backdrop to the rest of the story. One minor complaint at the beginning of this book, is how Alex is referred to by three different names, and sometimes in relatively quick succession which was a little confusing at times, however, that evened out as the story progressed – and I did like how the author used the different names to relate to different facets of Alex’s complex life.
Once that groundwork is done, the pacing picks up and the narrative really gets off the ground, with a good mixture of family drama, action (with some rather graphic moments), questions of trust and loyalty and choice. This was the formation of the character that is not only central to this series, but has been one of my favourite parts of these books, because his characterisation is spot on, and while he was less likeable to some extent in this one, it was great to see where aspects of his character that develop and grow in the later books have come from. Even better, here we get to see how Alex builds his relationships with those around him, from the gang, to the wider community and the romantic aspect that is woven in as a natural, but not dominant storyline.
The Bowery Slugger is a well-written, gritty introduction to the Alex Cohen series. This is a great first installment, that lays the foundations for the rest of the series, while still standing very well on it’s own, as Borstinski builds this plot-driven story up into a thrilling conclusion that is both satisfying in and of itself, and will leave you wanting to continue with the series.
East Side Hustler:
I hadn’t read ‘The Bowery Slugger’ when I first read this one. And while I have now read the series from start to finish, I stand by the fact that ‘East Side Hustler’ can easily be read as a standalone novel. I found myself quickly picking up the relationships between the characters, and a good idea of their past experiences, if not all the nuances. That is a strength of the entire series, that each book can stand well on it’s own, while still forming an interwoven series that unfolds across all three books.
I found the character of Alex fascinating, and the two main facets of his life – the war, and the trauma from those experiences, and his work for the gangs well beautifully interwoven. It meant that he never became defined by one thing and stopped him from merely being characterised as a gangster. Even with the violence and scheming that makes up a large part of the book, and later his devolving need for power and money. He’s an excellent lesson in characterisation, and you can’t help but emphasise with him, and while you do not always like him or the other characters for that matter over the length of the story, they are all the more believable because of it.
What made me fall in love with this book, though, is the historical aspect – the research and worldbuilding, that brought the fascinating world of the 1920s to life. The roaring ’20s and Prohibition are something most of us know about from school, but this story lets us live it and not just through the ‘glitz and glamour’ that many associates with this era. This book looks not only at the gangs themselves, but their interactions and exploitations, as well as the logistics of Prohibition and the threats to their business, without losing sight of the character and his personal relationships. Flawless writing, and the blending of actual historical figures such as Al Capone among others involved in the gangs during this period, give it a degree of realism that is fascinating and shocking in equal measure and creates a story that flows from start to finish.
Midtown Huckster is the third book in the Alex Cohen series. While it can certainly be read as a standalone, this is a series that is going from strength to strength, and there are little details and elements of the context that are stronger for reading the rest of the series, and you get to see how Alex has reached the point he’s now at.
Once again and showing a reoccurring strength on the side of the author, it is the historical elements of this book that made me fall in love with the story. You can feel the dedication to the era throughout the story, but the facts never get in the way of the story but enrich it until it feels as though you have stepped through a door to the past. In Midtown Huckster it’s the end of Prohibition, and the start of a new era, where Alex and his contemporaries have to look elsewhere in order to make money and keep the mob in power. You can really get a feel for that newness, and uncertainty of these latest endeavours, in a world that is trying to push back against them. The excellent writing, and continued appearances from well-known historical figures, build on this and provide a robust and realistic foundation that lifts the narrative.
Alex remains a fascinating character, and while his actions and choices, such as working as part of the Murder Corporation for the syndicate, place him very much on the wrong side of the law. It is impossible not to enjoy his character, he remains human despite everything that he is involved in– from his failing personal relationships to his past, to the moments of vulnerability and the weight of what could happen if he makes the wrong choice. All in all, he makes for an excellent main character, and it has been a delight to see how he has grown and adapted from the events in the previous book to the ones he is living through now, and I look forward to seeing where his path will take him in the future.
For me, this has been my favourite book of the three, and it feels very much as though the series has hit its stride and will only continue from here. The writing is a wonderful blend of historical detail, action and human moments, and there’s never a dull moment from start to finish.
The Alex Cohen series that has so far been going from strength to strength, and I look forward to seeing where Borstinski will take us in future books. A wonderful, gritty historical series that is great for anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a bite.
About the Author:
Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.
There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.
He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.