It's obvious from the first of its breezy pages that Sweet and Vicious is aiming not for crime-drama realism, but something both grander and sillier. A devoutly Christian, flame-haired beauty named Grace falls for a mobster named Dante with knuckles so spiky they're called "devil's horns" by the unlucky victims of his left hook. Dante is on the run with a priceless, stolen collection of diamonds called "the Planets." Hot ice, grace and inferno, a cache of sparkling worlds purchased with blood...it's enough unapologetic symbolism to bog down a more typical thriller-romance.
But debut novelist Schickler (his short story collection, Kissing in Manhattan, came out in 2001) keeps the reader laughing with an oddball supporting cast, including a Mob knee-breaker named Floyd whose malapropisms–"I've got an ass to grind with that guy"–are more colorful than the clichés they mangle.
There are also plenty of expertly choreographed, improbably cop-free public spectacles of violence and lovemaking–Grace and Dante even get it on behind a fairground's fried-dough concession booth. This is a fun but thoughtful read for those who appreciate complicated collisions of opposites.