The time period is 1951 the place is Boston and the air is cold, dank, damp and the sky is filled with freezing snow falling to the ground. The streets are filthy, the area is filled with drugs and danger and the city and the scenery is depressing. Scollay Square is where the story takes place in this city but the descriptions, the people the apartments and houses are so worn down and so unkempt it reminds me of a battered world where everything is torn apart. The radiators in the apartments barely bring up the heat and the lower areas of the windows are not insulated and most people freeze. The streets are not cleaned and when the authors describe the windows, the restaurants, bars and coffee shops you wonder why anyone would frequent them. Within in culture lives Cal ‘Obrien and Dante Cooper who have been friends forever. Cal enjoys drinking and Dante cigarettes and drugs. Cal owns his own security company and Dante spends his time getting drunk, getting high and into loan sharks. Two friends that often have to bail the other one out when life gets dangerous and both do not think before they act. Cal was injured in WWII and walks with a limp and his favorite pastime is drinking. Dante enjoys drugs, cannot deal with the realities of life and has not been the same since losing his wife to an overdose. Both Cal and Dante seem to find their way into trouble but when Dante’s sister-in-law Sheila is killed by a man called The Butcher it sets them on a journey to find the killer, learn who and what is behind the renovations that are going to be done, why so many people will suffer and who has been killing woman. Torturing them, butchering them and leaving them in an abandoned trailer with no dignity as Dante and Cal decide to work with his brother in law Owen, to help catch a killer that no one seems to be able to identify or find. Added in the renovations are being bought and paid for by Congressman Michael Foley who is running for the Senate. His brother Blackie is thought to be the Butcher and his reputation as a gangster precedes him but it’s his brother Michael that takes on anyone who dares to accuse him and he manages to wipe out his transgressions in order to become the next State Senator. Blackie is stalking drug wars, turf wars, Cal’s wife and now it is downright war. The authors depict Boston as an area that is rundown, unsafe and yet some think it’s exciting. The bars are filled with call girls, drunks and all too often both men find their way to getting drunk but get blindsided by some of the other patrons when comments are made and Cal even winds up in the hospital. Some of the places are filled with life but most are not.
Lynn is Cal’s wife and she sticks by him no matter what but most of the time he tries to ward off the pain from his leg, dealing with his injury, shell-shocked and has his own private investigation company and from reading this novel I have learned the different kinds of “pints” that they frequently drank and the fact that sometimes drinking creates loose tongues and information flows. In an interview that I read about the author’s I learned that they created these two characters separately and even though they came from the same era they had to find a way to link their pasts and presents since they had similar backgrounds. No matter how bad things are or get they are loyal to each other. Flashbacks to his time in the army, the deaths that he saw and the memories that haunt Cal all come into play as he goes through the motions of life but not really living it. Lynn hoping that he will change and leave the hunting of the killers to the police, he can’t forget what they did to Sheila and the other girls, what Blackie has done to him and others and whether the real butcher has been arrested. Cal is hot headed and impulsive and he decides to confront the man in charge of the construction company and thereby lies the danger as he pretends to have a meeting with him and the end result proves that Cal cannot take no for an answer. When McAllister shuns him and insults him telling him to get out after admitting to knowing the relationship between Sheila, Blackie, Foley and a man named Renza who was seeing Sheila he learns the harsh truth behind why she wound up with Foley. Keeping him happy Renza pimped out Sheila. Someone is killing off prostitutes and the man they call the Butcher is in critical condition but is he really the guilty party? As Cal laments about the past, deals with helping Dante at the start of when attacked in a bathroom because he’s into someone for money. Drugs are his meals not food. Shooting up in bathroom of a bar, two hired gangsters take him down as he gets what they think he deserves for owing money and now it’s time to collect. Every step of the way both Cal and Dante fall into the same rhythm of self-destruction.
Dante comes up against Blackie and winds up in the hospital, as Cal has to deal with the death of someone close to him. Both men on the road to self-annihilation as Fierro the ME is getting tired of sewing them back and both them need to stop self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and get a grip of life. Sheila was involved with a gangster; the corruption at higher levels is quite believable, as the body count will rise even further before the final scenes are described. The scenery is well described and the ambiance of the time period realistic. From the triple-deckers of Dorchester and the Necco candy factory, the time period is relived. As Father Nolan says the eulogy at a funeral and the cast mourns a loved one Dante is reflecting on his life and Cal mourning but will they ever see beyond the dirt, grime and dust filled streets and windows? Taking matters into their own hands is their way of survival and the ending will shock readers as truths, lies and deceits come out as Cal and Dante serve up justice in their own way. These are two men you don’t want to mess with and have a lot of respect. Serpents in the Cold: Sly and treacherous people that exploit the trust of others in order to betray them. The weather in Boston was treacherous, cold, and icy and the citizens more as Cal and Dante have to live in the shadow of their actions, decide on their future and hold in their hands the fate of someone who cannot defend him or herself. Where are they going next and will they ever be free? Find out when you read: WE WERE KINGS by authors Thomas O’Malley and Douglas Graham Purdy
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine