Review

The Last Jew Standing

by Michael Simon

I
have found Michael Simon’s Dan Reles novels irresistible from
practically the first paragraph of his debut, DIRTY SALLY. Reles is
a character who is not entirely likable but attractive nonetheless.
A fish out of water, he is a Jew from New York in the Austin,
Texas, Police Department in the early to mid 1990s, feeling less
than welcome and doggedly hanging on for reasons good and bad.
Simon’s plot lines in each book are much more complex than
they appear; even when something explicitly good happens to Reles,
be it a promotion or luck in love, something bad is going to occur
as a result. And so it goes with THE LAST JEW STANDING.


This book is as much concerned with Reles’s past in New York
as it is with his present in mid-1990s Austin. The occurrence that
causes Reles to confront his childhood is the sudden arrival of his
father --- who he hasn’t seen in many years --- with Irena, a
young Russian woman (and a self-proclaimed prostitute) in tow. Ben
Reles, a small-time Mafia errand-runner, has himself been on the
run for two decades. Now his past (as well as his present) has led
him to an uneasy and unwelcome reunion with the son from whom he
has been estranged for many years. It is no small irony that Dan
Reles is on the cusp of coming to grips with his own new family,
consisting of a son he didn’t know he had until just recently
and a woman he spends all too much time wishing he had never
met.


All are in the headlights of Sam Zelig, a New York mobster whose
history with Ben Reles goes back for decades and whose
all-consuming anger is directed at Ben for stealing (from his
perspective) Irena away from him. Zelig is possessed of an uncanny
ability to get things darkly and maniacally done, and within hours
after his arrival in Austin he is holding Ben, as well as the city
of Austin, hostage in a crazed effort to get Irena back. Zelig
exercises an inhuman brutality, one from which Simon does not
flinch. Yet there is an odd, simple beauty to the narrative as
well. Somehow, one knows from the very beginning of the book that
things are not going to end well, yet Simon so seamlessly welds the
plot together that the hard-won redemption and justice that occurs
by the end of the story seems not only natural but also
inevitable.


THE LAST JEW STANDING is by far Simon’s best work to date ---
a statement that has been true with the publication of each of his
novels --- succeeding in every way imaginable and even in a few
that are unexpected. I cannot imagine Simon writing a better book,
but somehow I know he will.


   







Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010

The Last Jew Standing
by Michael Simon

  • Publication Date: November 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 014311431X
  • ISBN-13: 9780143114314