Monday, March 10, 2008

Charlie Stella

Charlie Stella, a master of crime fiction dialogue
by Steven Williams

black and white photograph of Charlie StellaCharlie Stella, born Carmello Stella in 1956, is a critically and popularly successful American writer of crime novels. Stella is a New York City native and grew up to become very much the sort of man that many of his characters are, a big Italian knockaround king of guy who could easily be imagined as if not mistaken for a hit man. The style of his books has been compared to those of Mario Puzo and Elmore Leonard. Initially he wrote off Broadway and off-off Broadway plays for about fifteen years before his first novel was published, Eddie's World. Although Stella had produced two novels about eight years before Eddie's World, it was this
book that earned him an agent and this in turn allowed him to finally get a publisher. The most insightful critical reviews of Stella's work have tended to focus on the author's effective portrayals of low-level criminals, particularly their realistic dialogue. It is also a particular feature of Stella crime novels that his main characters, though lowlifes and thugs, are painted generally very sympathetically and even come across as actually quite charming in their individual ways. Another unique attribute to Stella's books is that each one includes a short essay on social and political events.

a black and white photograph of the Booklyn Bridge with Brooklyn in the backgroundStella was born in Greenwich Village and raised in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. He attended Public School 115, St. Jude Catholic School, and Canarsie High School, where he was on the football team. Stella attributes his interest in writing his crime novel thrillers from his introduction in college to 'The Friends of Eddie Coyle' by George V. Higgins. It was the instructor of a Minot State College Course in North Dakota, Dave Gresham, who introduced Stella to Higgins while Stella was attending school there on a football scholarship. Greshem was both a friend and teacher and it was his intervention that was primarily responsible for Stella's turn towards writing in his sophomore year, a period of time when Stella came to the realization that he had no real future in professional football. Stella transferred from Minot College to Brooklyn College and, after graduation, coached football at Brooklyn College. Because of his interest in becoming a writer, he took up work as a word processor on the side, work that he continued to do part time even after he began to be published. As a professional writer, Stella is disciplined, writing about ten hours each day. This averages out for him to about three books a year from which he generally expects to winnow out one or two potentially publishable books. The result is that he always has quite a few books queued up waiting for the editing process to begin with the result that most of his books published subsequent to Charlie Opera are published out of their written sequence. Stella currently lives with his wife in New Jersey and she reads each novel for him before it turned over to its editor. His long-term goals are to first, continue writing crime novels but also branch out into screenplays with the ultimate goal of returning to writing for the theatre.

'Eddie's World, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie Stella hardcover edition front coverEddie's World (2001)
Stella's first published novel is best described as a hard-boiled, fast-paced crime novel. The main character enjoys book running for the mob. But his attractive wife, a successful marketing research executive, hears her biological clock ticking and so begins pressuring him to clean up his act. Though he has been able to do well in the legitimate business world as a word processor, he finds it difficult to consider settling down into a stale, predictable life. Because of this, the marriage looks to be on the way out. In desperation, he takes on the offer from a friend to help out on a job that seems to offer them both an easy score. The money and especially the thrill draw Eddie to the work, but what was intended to be a quick, uncomplicated burglary pulled off with some inside help from a woman with a grudge quickly turns very sour. Eddie finds himself implicated in a triple murder in which the real murderer, a Russian mobster, is under federal witness protection. Eddie ends up being pursued by the real murderer, by two New York City homicide detectives for
the murders, and by the Russian mobster for the burglary mark's stolen jewels. Eddie's thirst for excitement is a little more than quenched as he sets off to try to evade his pursuers.

'Jimmy Bench-Press, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie Stella hardcover edition front coverJimmy Bench-Press (2002)
The main character of Stella's second published novel is a low-level Mafia strong-arm guy, used to apply pressure or even eliminate problems for a Mafia family. He is also an ex-con who has served two prison terms and he desperately wants to become a 'made man' in the family. One cop wants to stop him though. He is Alex Pavlik, a hard-edged but likable cop first introduced by Stella in his previous novel, 'Eddie's World'. This cop has been transferred to the Organized Crime unite from the Homicide unit because of his difficulty getting along there. He also has a new partner, another New York police detective, and they set off down into the mobster underworld in pursuit of the ex-con, hired muscle, wannabe-mobster. In the mean
time this ex-con is hired to collect on a bad loan to an Italian barber and this opens up opportunities for him in a number of illegal mob activities including extortion, murder, drugs, and porn. The two cops spend most of their time retracing the ex-con's footsteps in an effort to find something serious enough that they can pin on him.

'Charlie Opera, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie Stella hardcover edition front coverCharlie Opera (2003)
The main character has just retired from a successful high-rise window-washing business in New York City and has decided that he and his wife deserve a vacation in Las Vegas. The day after they arrived, he wakes up in a construction site ditch having been dumped by his wife the day they arrived. He had immediately gone out to get drunk was mugged while taking a walk to clear his head. Curiously, he was mugged but his wallet was not taken. He soon discovers that the assault is related to a contract put out on him as revenge for his breaking the jaw of a young hothead wiseguy's back in New York. This New York mobster wants the main character killed and has hired a killer to go after him. To complicate matters, the Feds have the young mobster in their sites and want the ex-window washer to leave Las Vegas so that their target will no longer be distracted by this personal vendetta. The ex-window washer's stubbornness will not let him leave town though and so he ends up in the middle of a storm of events fueled by the Fed's heroin sting, a mob vendetta against him, the interest of murderous drug pirates, and his pursuit by a mob button man.

'Cheapskates, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie StellaCheapskates (2005)
A former New York City bus driver and ex-con, unjustly convicted for car theft, becomes a close friend of his prison cellmate. They are both released from prison on the same day. The main character's best friend sets out to collect money owed him by his ex-wife who stole it from him, but he is later found shot to death. He had planned to use the money to purchase a cab license. The indifference of both the police and the dead man's family motivates the ex-bus driver to set out to find the killer himself. In the process, he inadvertently interferes with one greedy group or person after another in the process: dirty police, the FBI, a Nation of Islam splinter group, the family of his dead friend's ex-wife, his own obnoxious family, and a group of old Mafioso.

'Shakedown, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie Stella hardcover edition front coverShakedown (2006)
The main character of this story is a reformed ex-bookmaker. After only a few months of going straight, actions by his old boss and the results begin to drag at him. His old employer has decided that the ex-bookie still owes one last, extra payoff. Instead of giving in, the ex-bookie decides he is tough enough to keep all his earnings and tries to distance himself even further from his former associates. Circumstances quickly degenerate as the ex-bookie's girlfriend is threatened by one of the mob's Irish goons.

'Mafiya, A Novel of Crime' by Charlie StellaMafiya (2008)
The story about a street-smart, intelligent, reformed prostitute who, after the discovery of her best friend's mutilated body, sets out to exact revenge. The main character had left Las Vegas for New York City after changing her life. Her friend's killing is related to her work as a 'professional', turning occasional tricks in order to afford private school for her children and is tied to the Russian mafia. Her surviving friend discovers that she was chosen by the Russian mob to be killed in a snuff film paid for by a wealthy Saudi weapons dealer. With the help of her lover, a former cop they set out after the Russians discovering in the process that someone inside law enforcement probably has provided the protection that has kept the murderers from prosecution.

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Charlie Stella, a master of crime fiction dialogue by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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