Criminal Gold by Ann Aptaker is one of those books that surprises you, over and over again. It’s an absolute gem and is worth the time you spend reading it. From the moment it starts, you are taken to the early 1950’s in New York, and Ann Aptaker wields her words as if she were an artist. Instead of making every individual brushstroke count, she makes each individual word count. Her word selection is, to me, almost poetry. If you doubt me, go look at the excerpt below where a woman walks into her office and sits down. Then see how Ann Aptaker puts it.
Cantor Gold is a butch lesbian and a smuggler of art and jewelry. This is in the days when being a lesbian is illegal and if you are arrested you are likely to be ‘cured’ by any of the policemen imprisoning you. In the midst of a deal with a small-time mobster late at night, she is in her boat under the Brooklyn Bridge waiting to pass off a jewel, when a woman falls from the bridge and crashes into her boat, capsizing it. The woman is the fiancée of Sig Loreale, a contract murderer and kingpin mobster around New York where Cantor operates. Sig decides that he needs vengeance and ensures that Cantor finds out who is involved. The rest of the book is the story of how Cantor tries to solve the mystery, keeping one step ahead of the small-time mobster who has lost his jewel, and Sig, who doesn’t trust her.
Cantor Gold is so well described, a butch with all those wonderful butch traits. She is wondrous of femme women, protective of them all and also lustful of their curves. She loves to have a femme on her arm, but her great love, Sophie, seems to have disappeared and she spends her quiet time wondering where she is. From the start of the book, Ann Aptaker lets Cantor describe herself and she does such a great job. Her diction is how I would imagine she would speak, and it does even more for setting the scene. Cantor has a well-organized business and has dealt with criminals nearly all her life; she know all the tricks of the trade.
Rosie Bliss is a cabbie who has a taste for Cantor’s outlaw life and cares for her. She is Cantor’s current girl, although Cantor does not appear to be monogamous.
There are a number of other very well described gangsters, including Sig Loreale and a number of women who, I found, Ann Aptaker has a real gift in describing. I could almost smell their perfume! Because the book is written from Cantor’s point of view, these descriptions add an extra dimension to the story. For the gangsters, somehow Cantor underplays their violence whilst at the same time moving very fast to stay ahead of them. For the women, because Cantor is a player, and she is attracted to them.
I would like to include New York City as a character, because Ann Aptaker has made it into one. Cantor’s descriptions of the buildings and the different districts are so eloquent and, at times, dark that they become almost alive in your mind.
The Writing Style
The words and their placement is what makes this book so special. It is not an easy read, because you need to relish those words, but time spent reading it is so well rewarded. For example, Cantor describes “the streets around here are as empty as an old lady’s handbag”. It really is poetry in places.
Everything is described from Cantor’s perspective, and whilst that could be a difficult perspective for the whole book, Ann Aptaker manages to carry it off.
Those words! They have given me a slice of the seamy side of life in 1950’s New York. Priceless.
I did not have a problem with it, but there is a scene in the first few pages of the book detailing the rape of a butch in custody. It is not particularly detailed, but it is as Cantor saw it and highlights the situation as it was at that time. If it worries you when you get to the butch arrest scene, turn two pages and you will miss it. The rest of the book is not worth missing out on for that small piece.
This book is beautifully written and needs to be savoured. Take time with it. Nurture it and it will stick with you for a long time afterwards.
Excerpt from Criminal Gold by Ann Aptaker
There’s a quick tap on my office door, followed by a breathy “Cantor?” It’s Rosie.
“C’mon in.” The door opens, Rosie steps inside. Judson follows her. Rosie must’ve driven here straight from her last cab fare. She’s still wearing her driver’s duds and cap.
The glow from the desk lamp sits even better on Rosie than it does on my silk threads or my fine furniture. Light always sits well on Rosie, settles naturally on her peaches-and-cream complexion, turns her blond hair the color of mist. But don’t let the dainty-damsel details fool you. Rosie Bliss handles an automobile better than any wheelman in town. She can slice through clogged New York City traffic with the daring of a race-car driver and the precision of a brain surgeon.
She also has a way of sitting down that never fails to attract my attention, an effortless, subtle sashay that flows naturally from her most luscious parts. I watch with pleasure as she unzips her jacket and sits down in the club chair with a gently rolling motion that carves curves in the air around her. Her blue work shirt doesn’t do justice to her breasts, full and luscious as a Classical Venus. But that’s all right. I know what’s there. I’ve gotten lost in them often enough.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781626392731
- Publisher: Bold Stroke Books
Ann Aptaker Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Criminal Gold by Ann Aptaker No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.