Vincent Graziano has done it again. Having published his first work of fiction, Die Laughing, in 2009, and more recently The Family Jewels in 2018, the stand up comedian turned funeral parlor owner again borrows from memories of his youth in Little Italy and imagined scenarios only a funeral director could devise.
While Die Laughing and The Family Jewels were set in Little Italy and the Lower East side, in The Romeo Club: Restless Old Men Eating Out, Graziano brings the reader to the quiet hamlet of Inlet Cove in Westchester, New York.
The town is an amalgam of many towns including Greenwich, though, Graziano says, “If you’ve been to Pasquale Ristorante in Port Chester, you may recognize the restaurant on the book cover.”
Tim Collins, a member of the Romeo Club becomes particularly restless when his double life catches up with him. After surviving an attempt on his life that leaves a bullet hole in the portrait over the bar in his friend Johnny Paradise’s Italian restaurant, Collins confesses to his pals, including undertaker Frankie Grace and Dr. Claudio Odelli, “Cardio” for short, that his gambling addiction has him pressed between the feds and the mob. He wishes he were dead.
That gets Frankie to thinking.
Using his connections in Little Italy, his contacts in the funeral industry, help from Johnny Paradise, Johnny’s nephew Nino, and Cardio, who in addition to having a keen poker face, can sign a death certificate, Frankie plots his friend’s death, funeral and open casket.
As mobsters and federal agents alike file into church for a last look at Collins, hot peppers come in handy and tears are shed. When a crash up on the balcony raises eyebrows, the jig is almost up.
For his part, Graziano noted his main character Frankie was the original character in Die Laughing.
“Basically people wanted to know what happened to him,” he said. “Maybe 40 years later in his life, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.”
Old friends that readers will recall from Die Laughing include Eddie “Special Ed” Fontana.
“Frankie was a teen at the time,” said Graziano. “I transported him up to Inlet Cove and wrote the story around that.”
Graziano, who finished writing Romeo Club at the end of 2020, said Frankie benefited from also having made numerous new friends over the years.
Of writing a book with so many twists and turns, Graziano credits his own overactive imagination.
He admits Timmy Collins has few redeeming qualities, but for the ability to make excellent friends.
“He’s an iconoclast. Nothing is sacred. But he did something right to make some good friends,” Graziano said. “I know people like that.”
Of his youth in Little Italy, Graziano said he hasn’t been back to lower Manhattan in some time.
“It’s never been the same, especially after Covid. It’s not what it used to be when I grew up there. I’d rather remember it the way it was.”
Graziano was one of five children growing up in a three room apartment in Little Italy. It was a strict upbringing with his parents, and he recalls life in a walk-to-all five block area as something of a bubble. While neither he nor his siblings got in trouble, it surrounded them as they ran the family business, a funeral home.
When he married his beloved wife who was from Westchester, they made Mamaroneck home. Today he runs Coxe & Graziano Funeral Home with locations in Mamaroneck and Greenwich.
“I have a small coterie of friends I dine with,” Graziano said. “I’ve been in Westchester for 40 years.”
“There’s enough restaurants around here when you can have some fun and not worry about your car,” he remarked, going on to list some of his favorites as Pasquale’s and Alba’s in Port Chester, Enzo’s in Mamaroneck, Emilio Restaurant in Harrison and both Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse and Rafele Rye in Rye.
“There might be a base of friends but there’s always someone who walks in and joins us in our moving feast,” he said. “They’ve all read the book. Everyone thinks they are one of the characters.”
As for more than one of his key characters being a fraud, Graziano noted, “One of Timmy’s lines was, ‘Does anyone ever know anyone?’ I think I wanted him to be a very intelligent man, but he had a lack of imagination and found a little easier way to get things done – with the help of his friends.”
“It keeps you from passing judgement on the characters,” he said.
In The Romeo Club, pages turn themselves as the suspense builds. And the Romeo Club members have absolutely everything to lose if their plot fails, including their lives.
As federal agent Reno Amore’s suspicions grow, a rookie cop’s blunder is revealed, time begins to run out, even for a dead man.
Step inside Johnny Paradise’s Italian Restaurant in Inlet Cove and join the club.
The Romeo Club: Restless Old Men Eating Out is available online via Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, BAM! Books a Million and locally at Arcade Books in Rye, NY.