A medieval schoolmaster whose students stabbed him to death with their pens—his name lives on in the College of Saint Cassian of Imola, a school with spectacular troubles. World War II has ended, and overnight Saint Cash’s has recklessly expanded from a dozen students to 4,500. Unknown to the honest clerics who think they run the place, the Newark Mafia find the college a handy front for dealing in war surplus materials. It’s a tough scene for a green kid like apprentice mortician Moon Gogarty, even tougher for basketball coach Douglas Knox, a priest with a drinking problem who receives mysterious threats on his life. And both Knox and Moon face a powerful temptation: mobster mistress Aisling Vastasi.
In this sinister comedy, the mob blackmails a pedophile priest in order to take over his lucrative charity, The Children’s Crusade. Events follow fast: a car-bombing, a fiery holocaust, an exorcism that ends in terror, a raid on a brothel, a college commencement that turns into a shoot-out, a play-off basketball game in which rival gamblers have bribed both teams. Alternately blood-curdling and hilarious, this is a gripping story full of sudden twists. Devotees of the thrillers of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, and Janet Evanovich will find A Hoarse Half-human Cheer in the same league.
Review: I would categorize this as one of those odd books with no true genre. It’s amusing, there’s an air of mystery, a bit of drama and a lot of talk about sex (though nothing graphic). It has mobsters and murder, religion and even dead people that blow up. There is also no one main character, or even two main characters. But I do have a favorite character: The College of St. Cassian of Imola.
St. Cash’s is a Catholic college trying to boost it’s student enrollment simply for the money they can bring in. However, in the rush to bring in GI’s at the end of the war, the college has failed to make accommodations for the influx of students. Philosophy classes are held in the boiler room. And the professor’s names are just about as ridiculous. The professor of education is Bonzo G. Hookey. The Joyce Kilmer Professor of English is Michael O. “Mickey” Spillane. Voice and diction is taught by Wladislaw Wyszynski. But my favorite: French classes are held in a men’s restroom, taught by a professor named Pigout (appropriately pronounced pee-goo).
Moon (who couldn’t love a character with that name?) is away from home for the first time. He’s the Forties version of a geek. He doesn’t appear to fit in anywhere except with his other nerdy roommates. He’s a sort of Walter Mitty, dreaming of himself in the role of Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw, leading a swing band and glowing in the adoration of the audience.
Aisling Vistasi is the hot mama of the college, both figuratively and literally. All the men drool over her vivacious and curvy looks and yet she usually has an infant in her arms (the result of an island affair which is amusing in it’s own right). She is on the look out for a permanent husband, a meal ticket of respectability for her illegitimate child, yet she is one powerhouse of a woman who knows how to use sex to get what she wants.
I found myself laughing out loud at the most obscure times and yet some of it seemed so ridiculous that it bordered on fantasy. This is really just a fun ride of a story.