Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Past and present, there seem to have been a lot of young men who have been both intelligent and ingénue. Hesh Kestin’s Russell Newhouse is one, a nice Jewish boy who is getting good grades at college, but needs to pay his way with his job as secretary of the local benefits club, being as he is an orphan.
Two things happen to Russell, both out of his control: his date of birth means he is coming to maturity just as Jack Kennedy has become president, and more specifically he is on the platform at a club meeting when Shoeshine Cats walks in. Mr Cats is joining the club for its principle benefit – a Jewish funeral for his mother. Unfortunately for Russell he organises said funeral so well that Mr Cats is impressed and takes the lad under his wing, meaning that before long he is riding in a big limousine, eating in exotic restaurants, and visiting smart hotels. Oh, and meeting gangsters, lots of gangsters, gangsters of all hues. Mr Cats, you see, is a gangster among gangsters.
Then Mr Cats disappears, having last been seen entering a vehicle which is later found with stains of his blood group all over the front passenger seat. Everyone assumes the worst, including the NYPD and the FBI, and even Mr Cats’s lawyer, who opens Mr Cats’s will to find that Russell is the principle beneficiary. Would you be surprised to discover that Russell lets his college work slip? Probably not, but would you be surprised to find that rather than close down the Cats operation, Russell tries to keep things on an even keel, to the extent that he prevents the other gangs moving in on his turf? Probably not, again, but then I said he was an ingénue.
As Russell moves into the Cats apartments he finds things about the missing man that he would never have guessed. However, when he talks to the FBI he discovers that nearly everything he knew has an opposite, as if he has been living in an Alice Through The Looking Glass world.
I don’t know if the world of the Kennedy’s Camelot was the first time we had universal paranoia, and Hesh Kestin’s novel is not the first to explore it, but the way Russell sees Sunshine Cats and his abilities in the light of the FBI allegations is a pretty neat narrative reversal. And that name, “Shoeshine”? Mr Cats’s first name is actually Shushan which got a bit mangled along the way. His sister’s name is Esther. They are both names associated with the Jewish festival of Purim, which coincidentally has fallen while I have read THE IRON WILL OF SHOESHINE CATS. I just hope that the FBI never find anything significant in that.