The sequel to Roddy Doyle’s beloved novel A Star Called Henry – an entertaining romp across America in the 1920s
Watch for Roddy Doyle’s new novel, Smile, coming in October of 2017
Fleeing the Irish Republican paymasters for whom he committed murder and mayhem, Henry Smart has left his wife and infant daughter in Dublin and is off to start a new life. When he lands in America, it is 1924 and New York City is the center of the universe. Henry turns to hawking cheap hooch on the Lower East Side, only to catch the attention of the mobsters who run the district. In Chicago, Henry finds a newer America alive with wild, happy music played by a man with a trumpet and bleeding lips called Louis Armstrong. But in a city also owned by the mob, Armstrong is a prisoner of his color. He needs a man--a white man--and the man he chooses is Henry Smart.
Doyle stumbles somewhat in this sequel to his excellent 1999 bestseller, A Star Called Henry. Beginning with Irish revolutionary Henry Smart's arrival in New York City in 1924, the story follows Henry's subsequent adventures in advertising, bootlegging, pornography, unlicensed dentistry and keeping ahead of the former associates who'd like to see him eat a lead sandwich. After encroaching too much on a mobster's turf and getting lucky with another powerful fellow's kept lady Henry hightails it to Chicago, where he becomes the unofficial manager of a young Louis Armstrong. Though serendipitously reunited with his beloved wife and the daughter he's never met while trying to rob her employer's house, Henry soon heads back to New York to help Louis make it big. While just as brash and lively as Doyle's earlier novels, this one isn't nearly as focused; the dialogue-heavy narrative is interspersed with shifts in setting, time and plot, and characters appear and disappear with little consequence, their spoken parts hasty, repetitive and often perplexing. Worse, Doyle takes Henry Smart's charm for granted; readers unfamiliar with his previous adventures may roll their eyes at his arrogance and incessant sexual encounters. There's just too much material; any of the novel's numerous strands could have been fleshed out into its own book. That said, the novel is still a lot of improbable fun.