One of the best things I can say about this book, other than it's a helluva good read, is that it was so involving that it overcame my fear of my new Kindle e-reader. I am a bit of a technophobe, but after managing to download Wild Bill and figuring out how to turn the pages, I was totally caught up in the story and barely noticed that I was holding a device, not a book. With first-run big-name novels now going at $45 a pop, e-books are a good alternative for people on budgets or with limited shelf space.
Wild Bill is the story of an FBI agent, Will Hickox, a man who has the patience of Job and the determination of a rat terrier. After once letting his formidable temper off the leash, Will was relegated to areas of work less likely to lead to lawsuits. Alone since the death of his wife and daughter, Will has been having an intense but secret affair with Madeline Shea Klimak, wife of a Chicago police officer. He lives for the day when he can drop the job and ride off into the sunset with Madeline.
The sunset ride scenario is interrupted by a cataclysm in the Chicago mob scene. Gianni Bevilaqua's love of high-cholesterol food kills him suddenly, leaving a power vacuum. Gianni's son, Junior, figures it's his right to step into the old man's shoes, no matter how inadequate his foot size. Others think differently, mainly Frank Ferraro, a canny old crim who can see that Junior isn't half the man his father was, except perhaps in waist measurement.
The FBI has been quietly knitting together a RICO case which is now under threat from the instability of the mob scene, and the demands by the higher-ups that the case be brought to trial soon. Will Hickox and his immediate boss know that an ill-prepared RICO case will be tossed out by the judge; so Will proposes a plan to get more evidence and get it fast. His reputation and his life will be on the line if the scheme fails, but he's willing to take the chance.
There are four major characters in this story: Will, Madeline, Frank Ferraro and Junior, but there is a large supporting cast on both sides of the law, comprising other FBI agents, the Chicago police, and an assortment of low-lifes and thugs in the Ferraro and Bevilaqua camps. There are echoes of Frank Zafiro's River City crew, and Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood CROWs here, and a touch of The Godfather-but without the warm and fuzzy bits.
The writing is spare, almost shorthand in some instances, but you're never confused about what's going on and who's doing what. (If author King isn't an undercover agent himself, he must have a best buddy who is; this book has the smell of real life to it.) The story line proceeds in a series of hard, sharp shocks, the last one the most brutal, but somehow it rounds out the book in a way that makes you realise you were subconsciously expecting it. If there's a criticism, it would be that some characters and situations veer a bit too close to stereotypes - but as someone once observed, stereotypes are stereotypes because they're based on truth.
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