Book Review: Under The Eye Of God by Jerome Charyn

Kinky Friedman meets Carl Hiaasen with a Bronx/Texas twist in Jerome Charyn’s new Issac Sidel novel UNDER THE EYE OF GOD.

With cynically screwball characters and caricatures that will leave you smiling or recoiling at nearly every turn, don’t expect to make a whole lot of sense of the frenetic plot. But have no fear. Charyn will somehow manage to keep you entertained.

UNDER THE EYE OF GOD continues a mytery series that began back in 1974. Jerome Charyn (b. 1937) is the critically acclaimed author of nearly fifty books. Born in the Bronx, he attended Columbia College, where he fell in love with the works of William Faulkner and James Joyce. After graduating, he took a job as a playground director and wrote in his spare time, producing his first novel, a Lower East Side fairytale called Once Upon a Droshky, in 1964. In 1974 Charyn published Blue Eyes, his first Isaac Sidel mystery. Begun as a distraction while trying to finish a different book, this first in a series of Sidel novels introduced the eccentric, near-mythic detective and his bizarre cast of sidekicks. Charyn followed the character through Citizen Sidel (1999), which ends with his antihero making a run at the White House.

UNDER THE EYE OF GOD finds Isaac Sidel finally getting near the White House, but only as Vice President elect. After decades of madness in the Bronx, Sidel has become too popular to be America’s vice president. Once the New York Police Department commissioner, he became the most beloved mayor in the city’s history—famous for his refusal to surrender his Glock, and for his habit of disappearing for months at a time to fight crime at street level. So when baseball czar J. Michael Storm asks Sidel to join him on the election’s Democratic ticket, the two wild men romp to an unprecedented landslide. But as the president-elect’s mandate goes off the rails—threatened by corruption, sex, and God knows what else—he tires of being overshadowed by Sidel, and dispatches him to a place from which tough politicians seldom return: Texas. In the Lone Star state, Sidel confronts rogue astrologers, accusations of pedophilia, and a dimwitted assassin who doesn’t know when to take an easy shot. If this Bronx bomber doesn’t watch his step, he risks making vice-presidential history by getting killed on the job.

And all this takes place just in chapter one.

There is hardly a political or cultural sacred cow left standing that Charyn doesn’t see fit to hoist on his satirical petard. Democrats, Republicans, Texans, Jews and Christians, and sexual deviants—they’re all fair game. Old gangsters, Bronx real estate corruption, the Secret Service, the Army Corp of Engineers, Madames, mistresses, and the woman Sidel loves—everything provides grist for the mill.

Somehow, it all bends into some approximation of an artful conclusion in the end, with Issac Sidel, the rogue policeman President, bucking into a headwind of mourning with the progeny of a new generation while the rollercoaster rolls on.

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