In the 1930's and '40's "Murder Inc." was running New York city and the "Borscht Belt" of the Catskills area where it's members spent their weekends in the summer seasons enjoying the accommodations of the resorts and the comedians who doubled as hotel entertainment directors there.
In Funny Boys, Warren Adler imagines one of those seasons in the life of known gangster Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" "Pep" Strauss as seen through the eyes of his fictional girlfriend, Miriam "Mutzie" Feder and tumler Mickey Fine.
Mickey has wanted nothing more in his young life than to make people laugh. When he accepts a tumler position with Gorlick's Greenhouse he discovers that a very important, regular guest of the hotel is "Pep" Strauss, a man who years earlier had beaten his father for a being late in repaying a debt.
Mutzie wanted nothing more from life than to look like Jean Harlow and live in a movie. So, after ending things with the boy she was supposed to marry, she bleached her hair, bought new clothes and began her new life. She had her first dream realized and with the help of her brother, who introduced her to the dapper gentleman who hung out at the corner candy store, she was about to realize the second.
Warren Adler shows us a side of organized crime that is usually only depicted as a side story, the Jewish gangsters who worked side by side with the Italians whose names we all know so well.
This book does not glamorize the gangster life. It's the story of how easily someone can be taken in by veneers and what lies beneath. It's the story of a young man who finds shame in people of his own background who live lives of destruction with no regard for any other lives. Not even the lives of their "friends".
Mostly, this book is fun escapism. With the speech patterns of thugs and wannabe thugs, and jokes from a rather inexperienced hero at inappropriate moments, Funny Boys actually reads a bit like a 1930's gangster movie.
Title: Funny Boys
Author: Warren Adler
Publisher: The Overlook Press