Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: 'Jate's Boy' by Peter P. Sellers

Author Peter P. Sellers grew up in Western New York and became obsessed with horses when his friend the librarian suggested he read Walter Farley’s ‘Black Stallion’. After that introduction much of Peter’s life has been devoted to horses – ‘The entire Michael Butler Saga (four books) is set in the world of harness horse racing – and reading his extended biography runs form age twelve to the present with his obsession with horses – ownership, buying, selling, and raising and training horses – he was sent to military school in Syracuse for his final year of high school (apparently he was a disruptive student), after which he was left at the harness racing track in Vernon, New York to learn the ropes of the job. His interests turned to film, photography, editing, and story telling and enjoyed a fascinating, successful, eye-opening forty-year career in film and television production. In the 1980s he began writing as well as gathering an interest in polo and racing harness horses in Florida. All of this experience has produced an author who writes authentically about the world of horses – and so we come to his JATE’S BOY, which is the fourth installment in his Michael Butler Saga. As Peter sums it up, ‘I have a fairly clear sense of my characters’ code of conduct based on my own life’s experiences. I have a rule-of-thumb building characters: each major character is morally ambiguous when push comes to shove. Everyone makes their own moral decisions to fit a sticky situation.’

Peter opens his novel with a hard-hitting rime scene that sets a strong tone for the novel ahead – ‘Blaster was hyperventilating but that was to be expected after a face-to-face kill. He focused on controlling his breathing as he pulled back out onto the street in front of Joey Grasso’s building. He knew the FBI stakeout was a car about a block down to his right, so he turned the van left. He wasn’t going to the bus terminal parking lot to ditch the van immediately; he wanted to do a few things first. He knew the guy buffing the floor outside Grasso’s apartment had gotten a good look at him, so he wanted to change his appearance as quickly as he could. He wanted to wash his hands as soon as possible to rid himself of the cordite from firing the Glock, and he wanted to ditch the gun and exterminator uniform he had been wearing… He checked his pulse, his heart rate was very close to normal. The time-honored procedures for the after-hit exit were engrained in him. One: it’s over and done—don’t think about it for a second. Two: spend as much time re-establishing your composure as you need while exiting the location. Three: alter your appearance as dramatically as possible as soon as possible. Four: begin normal activities as you follow your exit plan. Five: know exactly what you plan to do with the weapon afterward… and do it. Lastly, begin your mental exercises to flush the experience out of your mind. Think positive thoughts about what joys and experiences lie ahead.’

And it is that intensity of prose that carries this book so well. But back to the harness racing aspect – the synopsis tells us what is in store: ‘ The biggest star in harness horse racing in America is Sophia Butler. She lives in Illinois. Her husband Michael is serving five years for conspiracy and obstruction of justice in New York State because he wouldn't testify against friends at his trial. Sophia left New York, swearing never to return because of the treatment of her husband. The Governor of New York wants to increase revenue at New York State harness racing tracks by adding add slot machines at the racetracks. He needs a star to help promote the idea and draw crowds. Michael Butler is offered a deal: get your wife to come to Yonkers Raceway in New York and race and he will be released from prison. But, no one has asked Sophia. Does she still love her husband? Sophia's family, the notorious mobsters, The Tanzini Brothers, want to use Sophia's popularity to build a racing complex in Iowa. They'll use whatever means needed to control her. Michael Butler has only his, hopefully, unbreakable bond of love with his wife to offer. The Tanzinis have the mid-west's most feared hitman. An exciting fast paced story of love, greed, betrayal, and violence with the precious bond of true love at stake.’

Peter makes us feel the tension, smell the smells, feel the excitement and the crises of his story very well indeed. Readers who start with this novel will likely turn to the first three installment in this well written saga. Grady Harp, December 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.