The West Side Kid: A Novel
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (02/10)
Lorne Bennett used to be a successful and quite famous movie star, until the fateful day when his wife was found murdered and he became the prime suspect in that violent crime. Unable to produce an alibi that would withstand real scrutiny, “The West Side Kid,” as he was better known to his many fans, decided to flee and leave his infant daughter Laura behind, in the tender care of her relatives. He remained on the run for the next two decades, enabled by some of the people from his past who would take care of his financial affairs and make life on the lam easier for him. For the last five years he has been leading a quiet, peaceful existence in Arizona, until a rather silly accident shattered his anonymity and sent him running for cover again, trying to hide from Billy Volpe, an ambitious and sharp local reporter.
It was around the same time that Laura Bennett, who grew up well loved by her aunt and uncle, renewed her search for her father, trying to figure out the truth about herself and her past. The search, bordering on obsession, put her at odds with her live-in boyfriend, and also seemed to alienate her relatives. After asking a few too many questions, she was clearly on the right path, since somebody threatened her life – first verbally and later with a series of highly unpleasant and violent events. Following a series of sometimes highly unlikely coincidences, Laura and Billy met and unraveled the 22-year-old mystery.
Valentine Cardinale’s writing is definitely imaginative and engaging, with a fast-moving story, wild twists and turns and an interesting ending. His characters are well defined and thoroughly believable. The villains are appropriately repugnant and the good guys dashing and daring. My favorite character was Billy’s precocious daughter Alex, whose keen powers of observation and charming personality were a true asset in the quest for the truth. I do hope that Alex as well as Billy and Laura appear in some kind of a sequel or a spin-off story in the near future.
On the less positive side I need to mention the ever-present bane of self-published books, namely less than perfect editing and proofreading, as well as a few too many highly unlikely appearances of various characters just where they needed to be for further story development. Yes, there are coincidences in life, but too many of them are just that – a few too many. Further improvement could also be achieved with more showing and less telling, particularly in the case of background stories. Those issues did not, however, prevent me from enjoying the story and particularly Laura’s quest for answers; and I feel certain that “The West Side Kid” by Valentine Cardinale will be enjoyed by readers everywhere.