Set during the Great Depression and based in part on real characters and a series of historical events, Toughs follows the story of Loretto Jones as he finds his life intertwined with the fate of Vince Coll, a 23-year-old Irish gangster who for a brief moment rose to the level of a national celebrity during his war with Dutch Schultz, Owen Madden, and Lucky Luciano. Tagged “Mad Dog Coll” after killing five-year-old Michael Vengelli in a botched assassination attempt, Coll was the subject of a shoot-to-kill order issued by New York City Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney, a $50,000 bounty offered by Dutch Shultz and Owen Madden, and $30,000 in reward money from by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the city’s newspapers. Loretto and Vince are bound to each other by years spent in an orphanage and on the streets, but in the summer of 1931, with Loretto in love with newly-divorced Gina Baronti, and Vince in thrall to the beautiful Lottie Kriesberger, their world of tough guys in tough times is hurtling toward disaster, and Loretto finds himself faced with impossible choices.
For this hard-hitting crime novel, Falco (The Family Corleone) draws on historical events involving Vince "Mad Dog" Coll, an Irish-American gangster who gained notoriety for, among other things, the accidental killing of a five-year old boy during a shoot-out in New York City in 1931. Set amid the poverty and despair of the Great Depression, Falco's unapologetically brutal narrative adeptly captures the dichotomy of the times from the ruthlessness of life in the Bronx to the glittering revues of the Cotton Club by chronicling the desperate lives of Coll and those around him, namely Loretto Jones, who met Coll at an orphanage when they were children and followed him into the world of organized crime. But as Coll rises to infamy and starts bloody conflicts with mobsters like Owen Madden and Lucky Luciano, Jones tries to leave the lifestyle and begin a new life with girlfriend Gina only to be pulled back time and time again. The story line takes a while to get up to speed, but patient readers will be rewarded with a satisfying albeit predictable conclusion.