Saria Viola’s Jukebox (Fahrenheit Press) assaults the reader in the first sentence, ” ‘‘Screw you, you fucking Jew!’ ” Make it past this — you can do this, I have the utmost confidence in you — and you’ll be rewarded with a kaleidoscope of criminals and artists existing on the fringes of London.
Jukebox is ostensibly about Nick Stringer, a trainee solicitor, who, along with his big-time law firm, get hired by his mobster uncle, Mel Greenberg. Stringer has dreams of being a rock ‘n’ roll god, but lawyering keeps hounding him. Greenberg loves the con, long or short, he doesn’t care. And if you get in his way, he has people for that.
These two are not the only colorful characters in Jukebox, Viola created some wondrous ones. There’s Matt, Nick’s friend and guitarist, “strumming his days away on a toxic blend of Facebook fiction and bottles of Jack.” Or the eclectic Buddha Christ Mohammad, though he is better known as BCM. Matt first witnessed BCM at the scene of an accident.
BCM and the bleeding boy remained unaffected, as if cocooned from the chaos. BCM reached into his bag, removed a stick of sage and calmly asked a bystander to light it and hold it for him. He slowly took the child’s hurt leg with his left hand as he used his right to cover his own eyes, tilting his head to the skies. You could see the agony on the child’s face. Then, all at once, BCM cried out, ‘Shem de la Shem de le shog!’ Matt had watched as a gentle equilibrium coddled the boy. With a white cloth from his satchel, BCM had stopped all the bleeding before the medics had arrived, and beyond all reason the suffering child lay in the street exuding a rosy peace. BCM leaned in close saying something to the child that made him laugh. There, in the middle of a crash scene, surrounded by raised voices and emergency sirens, BCM had somehow managed to erase the child’s pain and shelter him from darkness. Then he picked the child up, carried him to the pavement and sat by his side until the ambulance finally arrived. The child was saved.
Is it possible to con a violent con man? Stringer thinks so. The young lawyer’s girl happens to be a reporter investigating Greenberg and using his Achilles heel: Greenberg’s love for a transvestite showgirl. There are many fantastic characters and an equal amount of coincidences that drive the plot in Viola’s Jukebox. But this is where I probably diverge from many readers as I prefer a simpler book with fewer characters, so if Jukebox sounds like it is something you might be interested in, don’t let my reservations hold you back.