Like a gambler up to his neck in debt to a loan shark, Tod Goldberg had a problem that wasn’t going away.
He’d agreed to write a short crime story for a compilation called “Las Vegas Noir,” but his past life in the Vegas suburb of Summerlin felt like the opposite of noir, and his deadline was fast approaching.
“I was here in the desert in Palm Springs, stopped at a stop light, pondering my existential fate, and how I was probably going to have to give the money back from the short story,” Goldberg says. “And I turned and I saw someone walking out of this very old cemetery, closing the door behind them.”
And he thought: “Who goes in there? I mean, they’re not putting fresh bodies in there,” Goldberg says. “And since I’m fairly criminal-minded I thought, ‘You know, if you really wanted to get away with murder the thing to do would be to own a cemetery and bury the bodies in coffins.’”
By the time the light changed he had the seed of an idea and a solution to his problem. “All of a sudden, just out of the ether – ether plus anxiety – I had this idea of a hit man who is pretending to be a Jew, running a cemetery and a synagogue for a temple in Las Vegas,” Goldberg says.
And not just for that short story, but in time for a series of books, including the latest, “Gangster Nation,” which arrives on Tuesday, Sept. 12, the second in what will be a trilogy if not more in the saga of Chicago hit man Sal Cupertine turned Vegas rabbi David Cohen. In the new book, Cupertine-Cohen is planning his escape from both his past and present, hoping to be reunited with his wife and son for a fresh start far from anyone that’s ever known him, but as the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occur, his world and the world at large are turned upside down, his life and future thrown into jeopardy.
It’s a thriller that walks a neat path from funny to frightening, its characters motivated by the overlapping codes of criminality and religion.