Gang­sters Don’t Die

  • Review
By – September 11, 2023

Gang­sters Don’t Die marks the end of Tod Goldberg’s Sal Cuper­tine tril­o­gy, which stars a for­mer mafia hit­man-turned-rab­bi. In this final install­ment, the life that Sal Cuper­tine (aka Rab­bi David Cohen) has built for him­self in Las Vegas is tee­ter­ing on a cliff. The crim­i­nal empire he has cre­at­ed — an empire that uses Tem­ple Beth Israel as a front — is under threat, and mem­bers of the Native Mob and the FBI are gun­ning for his head. He knows it’s time for him to quit the game. But before he does, he needs to find out where his wife and son, both of whom are in wit­ness pro­tec­tion, are hid­ing, so that he can final­ly reunite with them.

Despite the admit­ted­ly ridicu­lous (yet inven­tive) premise of a for­mer hit­man becom­ing a rab­bi in an effort to start a new life, Gang­sters Don’t Die takes itself seri­ous­ly. Char­ac­ters are drawn clear­ly and empath­i­cal­ly, and their desire for pow­er and com­pan­ion­ship is well-craft­ed and believ­able. The easy com­par­i­son to Gang­sters Don’t Die is The Sopra­nos: both tell the sto­ries of mob­sters in the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, and both attempt to deep­en their char­ac­ters beyond the styl­ized por­traits that dom­i­nate the mafia genre. Sal Cuper­tine doesn’t have the same exis­ten­tial con­cerns Tony Sopra­no does, but he nev­er­the­less has ques­tions of his own: Has he been the rab­bi his com­mu­ni­ty has need­ed, despite the fact that he’s been run­ning a crim­i­nal enter­prise out of his syn­a­gogue? Did he ever have a choice to live a dif­fer­ent kind of life? Who else could he have been? 

Although Sal Cuper­tine is the main char­ac­ter, the nov­el cycles through mul­ti­ple points of view, illus­trat­ing many facets of mafia life and influ­ence dur­ing the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Some of these pas­sages can be dry; but for those who are inter­est­ed in the top­ic, it will be end­less­ly enter­tain­ing. For read­ers who are less inter­est­ed in mafia life, or are look­ing to see a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry rab­bi, this might not be the book of choice. It’s much more con­cerned with mob life and back-alley deals than it is with the rab­binic expe­ri­ence. That being said, there are some pow­er­ful moments in which Sal rec­on­ciles the life he’s lived with the Jew­ish prin­ci­ples he’s out­ward­ly devot­ed him­self to. 

As the final install­ment in the tril­o­gy, there is a lot the read­er will miss — includ­ing names, dates, and loca­tions — if they do not read the first two. How­ev­er, the first quar­ter of the book does relay the major­i­ty of the back­sto­ry. After that, the present nar­ra­tive real­ly kicks off and sweeps the read­er away.

Gang­sters Don’t Die is an authen­tic, ful­ly real­ized, mod­ern-day noir thriller. For read­ers who want excite­ment but don’t want to skip out on char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and inte­ri­or­i­ty, this book is a great choice. 

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

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