Set in the 1930s, brothers Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabishevsky grow up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as part of a struggling, poor Jewish family just looking to get by.
At the young age of twelve, Morris drops out of school and takes an entry-level job with a clothing manufacturer, sweeping floors and doing odd jobs to earn a small paycheck each week. It’s clear from the beginning, though, that Morris, who is savvy and tough, has greater ambitions than pushing a broom around for the rest of his life. So, while excelling at the duties given to him, he also strives for more, constantly watching those around him and learning the business side of the trade in hopes of climbing the career ladder.
Over time, that’s just what Morris does, quickly making his way up the ranks until he’s essentially running the whole operation at the ripe age of twenty. It’s around this time that Morris, now going by the last name Raab because it’s easier to say, has his first run-in with the mob, who have a monopoly on the garment industry, charging ridiculously high union fees and demanding owners only buy materials from their approved retailers. Morris, who is tough in part because of how fast he had to grow up, and also because of how hard he’s worked to get where he’s at, doesn’t just nod along and smile during the shakedown like other business owners. Instead, he pushes back, unafraid to mix it up with Louis Buchalter, a young enforcer who, like, Morris, started out at the bottom but is slowly inching his way upward.
As the story unfolds, Morris opens his own store with Sol, using his experience and panache to land big-time retail clients as the brothers grow their business into a real success. Of course, with money flowing in, the mob wants their cut too, and Louis Buchalter, who has risen to full-fledged New York gangster, is willing to take it from Morris if the Jewish entrepreneur won’t just hand it over.
As Morris fights the mob, who take plenty of action to try and force his hand, Gross exposes the level of corruption in New York at that time. Eventually, Morris catches the eye of Thomas Dewey, a whip-smart district attorney who tries to secure Raab’s help in bringing down the mob. Eventually, though, Morris realizes that helping Dewey put an end to Buchalter and organized crime on the Lower East Side might also mean giving up everything he’s worked so hard to build.
Since switching genres a few years back when The One Man (2016) was released, Andrew Gross has quickly established himself as one of the best historical fiction writers in the game today. Button Man, like his last two novels, has a similar theme in that it follows a good, courageous, and hard-working man who wants to do the right thing, but could lose everything he’s worked for in the process.
Whereas The One Man and The Saboteur (2017) were both centered around WWII, therefore raising the stakes to a world-saving level for the cast of characters involved, Gross’ latest work is smaller in scope, which allows for more character development. Without the backdrop of a horrendous world war, Gross was able to take his time building Morris, who has to fight and battle for his world, making him both compelling and relatable. Additionally, Gross brings the setting right to life, detailing everything about 1930s New York, from the way people talk to describing the city’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Overall, it’s some of Gross’ best writing, and while he’ll almost certainly never top the magic that is The One Man (which is still one of the best books I’ve ever read), his latest offering is a big step up from last year’s The Saboteur.
Andrew Gross continues to bring the past back to life with Button Man, his latest emotionally-charged thriller that, on top of being widely entertaining, also packs a powerful, thought-provoking message.
Author: Andrew Gross
Pages: 384 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: September 18, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.