“Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of Five Ends Baptist Church became a walking dead man on a cloudy September afternoon in 1969. That’s the days the old deacon, known as Sportcoat to his friends, marched out to the plaza of the Causeway Housing Projects in South Brooklyn, stuck an ancient .45 Luger in the face of a nineteen-year-old drug dealer named Deems Clemens, and pulled the trigger.”
Sportcoat is 71 years old and well known in the Projects. His wife, Hettie, had recently died and he spends most of his time talking to Hettie, drinking homemade liquor affectionately referred to as King Kong and doing odd jobs. Sportcoat belongs to the Five Ends Baptist Church and Hettie had been the Treasurer and responsible for keeping the Christmas Club money. When Hettie died, no one knew where she kept the money. Sportcoat is obsessed with finding the money. Almost everyone in the novel is obsessed with finding Sportcoat.
Every year the projects receive a large delivery of gourmet cheese and the residents stand in line to get a share of the cheese. No one knows where it comes from or who is responsible, but it shows up every year.
The shooting of Deems Clemens sets off a series of unique events, bringing a wide array of characters together in very unlikely ways. An honest police officer by the name of Potts, just a couple of months from retirement, is assigned to the case. Potts is big, Irish and white. He spends a lot of time at the Church and in the community, where he gets to know sister Gee. There are sparks.
Sportcoat does some work for an 89 year old Italian widow named Mrs. Elefante. Her deceased husband, Guido Elefante was a smuggler. Their son, 45 year old Thomas Elefante, nicknamed the Elephant, has carried on the business. He strikes fear into the heart of almost everyone, but is an extremely complex character. The Elephant and Sportcoat have not crossed paths. However, when a friend of the Elephant’s father pays the Elephant a visit and asks a favor, worlds collide.
The drug dealers behind Deems and Deems want Sportcoat. They are all a tad incompetent. When their local man fails to get him, they bring in a professional hitman to take care of Sportcoat. This is where things get really interesting and I am not going to tell you any more of the story.
“Deacon King Kong” is a mystery and a cultural romp through 1969 New York City, covering racial equity, mobsters, religion, love and change. This novel is fun, full of characters, well written and thoughtful, with twists and turns and a moral to boot. The novel was just named the 2021 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner for fiction. Five stars. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.
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