Bent Coin by Stephen Byers

Bent Coin” by Stephen Byers begins in 1898 with the death of Suzanne’s mother, followed by fond memories of her father told in creative flashbacks. When her father dies, Suzanne inherits his Chicago real estate business. She meets Harry Matheu, a truck driver with a greedy hidden agenda, whom shelater marries. However, two weeks after they begin dating, she has him investigated and finds he associates with the mafia. The reader wonders why Suzanne, as intelligent as she is, marries him.

Suzanne finances businesses for Harry and his parents. While Suzanne’s in-laws manage nicely with their clothing store, Harry loses money in a string of ice cream parlors as well as in the stock market. As Harry and Suzanne grow farther apart they have a son, Sam, which Harry barely acknowledges as his own.

Harry eventually swindles money from one of his mafia buddies, changes his identify to a man named Buddy and fakes Harry’s death. Buddy reappears years later in 1948, penniless, with an elaborate scheme to reverse his self-induced misfortune.

The beginning of the book is well written with good dialogue and nice pacing as readers learn how Joe Haldimann, Suzanne’s father, started his business, and how Suzanne and Harry meet.

The middle of the novel sags a little as time transitions are dealt with awkwardly giving a sense of unevenness to the story. The dialogue becomes a bit more stilted.

Sam plays a major part toward the end of the book and more information of his life experiences while growing up would be helpful. His traumatic childhood with an angry, absent father is written sporadically through the story. Three years in the army and six months in rehabilitation with a military injury is barely mentioned. Yet, in a monologue to his wife, Sam tells the important lessons he learned about himself in the army. The missing pieces of Sam’s youth would have been interesting reading.

The undercurrent of the book deals with Sam’s love of baseball and a quasi private investigator with extensive underworld connections. A mixture of greed, money, murder and blackmail cleverly fuse together at the end as Harry executes his plan to guarantee his fortune. Of course, not all goes as planned.

A roster to assist the reader in keeping track of the characters would be useful. There are at least thirty and at times difficult to keep straight. However, Harry’s rags to riches and back to rags story is worth the read. Suzanne’s character is well-rounded and the reader connects with her on many levels.

The term “Bent Coin” refers to looking at two sides of an issue, a lesson Suzanne’s father taught her. Stephen Byers certainly views his characters from all angles.

Buy this book: Bent Coin

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