Jack Kelly

Ike Van Savage - Private Investigator - Rochester, New York


(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 27, 2001)

"You don't judge in this business. You judge, you climb aboard the emotional roller coaster. It takes you up and down and around and around and leaves you right where you started... Trouble was, I did judge."

Mobtown by Jack Kelly

If you like hard-boiled detective novels, especially those that are reminiscent of Raymond Chandler's style, then you are very likely going to like reading this one. I did.

Thirty-two year old Ike Van Savage is a private investigator in Rochester, New York. He used to be a cop until someone set him up to make it look like he was taking a bribe. Essentially, he was doing too good of a job in a town that likes its vices. But then again, running his own investigations fits him better since he likes the edge and relishes the independence. And he's got a reputation that he can find out anything.

As we meet Ike Van Savage, it's the summer of 1959 and it's "a scorcher." The town has opened Durand Beach for night swimming so all the hot dog stands and frozen custard joints are doing a great business. Van Savage is staking out Gill's Texas Hots gathering evidence for Mrs. Gill on her husband's infidelity. Like it or not, much of a P.I.s income comes from "matrimonial work." This is an easy one and by morning he gets enough pictures to call in the wife and close up the case, or so he thinks.

Right off he gets two new cases. Slum landlord Paddy Doyle is angry that his apartment buildings are being set on fire. He blames the Italians and wants Van Savage to find evidence. And a mystery client turns out to be none other than mobs boss Joe Petrone's glamorous wife, Vicky. Another matrimonial case, but this one is not so easy. She wants proof that her husband killed his previous two wives and that he's going to do the same to her. In fact the closer he gets to these cases, the more he's bumping up against Joe Petrone and his gangsters, and the more he wants something done about him. And like that roller coaster he talks about in the opening lines of the novel, Ike Van Savage is taken for one heck of a ride, one with lots of hurtling through pitch darkness to the point that even he "couldn't figure out what the hell was going on." All this happens in just one week.

Married is one of the other things that Ike used to be. As Van Savage goes about his investigations, he also spends time with his daughter Gloria who's just turning ten. Despite his divorce, he maintains a relationship with her, which gives an unexpected nuance to his character. Another reliable figure in his life is his assistant Penny, who's also his confidant. She's a bit of beatnik; she likes jazz, poetry readings, coffee houses, practices yoga, smokes a little pot and goes to church. But then again, Ike is an ex-cop constantly popping bennies, a habit he picked up in Korea.

This novel is steeped in time and place. Like L.A. in Chandler's novels, Jack Kelly makes the town of Rochester a virtual character as he talks climate, streets, traffic, buildings, bars and restaurants, identifying all that's unique to this city situated on Lake Ontario and with the Genesee River running through the middle of it. Yet it's more than the town that plays to the atmosphere of the book, it's the feel of the time period, such as occurs in these kinds of lines:

"I put on my hat and went out for some early lunch."


"It wasn't unusual to see a car parked across the street from my apartment. It wasn't even so strange to see a man sitting in the front seat. Mild nights, you found a guy sitting out listening to his radio or reading his paper, maybe escaping a house full of kids or his wife's voice, maybe waiting for somebody to come home."

Another way that Kelly conveys the time period is through the use of stereotyped remarks such as when Van Savage refers to Italian wine as "dago red" and when Paddy Doyle is late, him and Penny chalk it up to his being Irish. A current day P.I. would not be able to get away with these observations.

It's also interesting the way in which Jack Kelly plays with the events of 1959. Kelly admits that he doesn't let true historical fact get in the way of the story, and indeed he doesn't. The way he tells it, you might think that Billie Holiday died the night before Rochester's minor league baseball team, the Red Wings, played ball in Havana, Cuba. And that the fight in which Johansson knocked out Patterson in the third round capturing the heavyweight title happened only a few days earlier. The reality is that a little research shows these events take place weeks apart. But that doesn't really matter and does not detract from the story one iota. It is kind of fun with all the terse references to television shows, movies, and sport events that are current in 1959. I was still a toddler, so this was not as much a nostalgic read for me as a confirmation of the world at that time. But then again, I do remember many of the reruns.

Ike Van Savage speaks to some of what Jack Kelly remembers growing up near Rochester in the 1950s. Kelly's grandfather owned a tavern and a movie theater, thus it's out of Kelly's own experience that Ike Van Savage explains that "Rochester was a mob town in 1959. You think Kodak and maple-shaded streets and white-shoe suburbs, you might not imagine that hoods ran the place." But you've got to read the hullabaloo that Ike Van Savage kicks up to get a really good feel for this town and this time period.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

  • Apalachin (1986)
  • Protection (1989)
  • Mad Dog (1986)
  • Line of Sight (2000)

Ike Van Savage series:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Jack KellyJack Kelly is the author of four critically acclaimed novels. His screenplay of Protection was made into a motion picture starring Stephen Baldwin and Peter Gallagher. He plans on carrrying the Ike Van Savage series through the 1960's.

Kelly lives in the Hudson valley region of New York State.

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