By Roddy Doyle
The last we saw of Henry Smart, he had had enough of Ireland—and Ireland of him—and was headed abroad. So what became of Doyle's amoral (thief, seducer, IRA operative, assassin) yet thoroughly engaging hero? Happily, he's very much alive. Doyle's sequel to 1999's A Star Called Henry begins with 22-year-old Smart's arrival in the U.S. and his attempts to earn a semi-honest living in Prohibition-era Manhattan. Opportunities abound, but Smart soon runs afoul of organized crime and sets out for Chicago.
As he did in Star, the fictional Smart crosses paths with real people. Here he meets up with Louis Armstrong, who's new to Chicago's burgeoning music scene. The rising young trumpet player needs a handler, and wily, strapping Henry is just the man for the job. A less gifted writer might easily botch the trick. But in prose that echoes the syncopated beat of the Jazz Age itself, Doyle brings Henry as well as Armstrong and his music to vibrant life. Oh, read this thing.