Book Review: Loan Shark by J.W. O’Dell

Loan Shark
by J.W. O’Dell
Copyright 1975
Publisher: Belmont Tower
215 pages

Rating: 6/10

Summary: Poor Joe Casey, this alcoholic, gambling-addicted loser has run out friends to scam and he owes thousands to vicious loan shark Joey Macaluso. Such is the stuff of pulp fiction. Indeed, Casey and Macaluso star in the pulp novel Loan Shark, which delivers plenty of low-rent thrills but just misses the mark.

Review: 1975‘s Loan Shark is one the thousands of cheaply-produced “men’s action” novels published over the years. Chances are it would be completely forgotten were it not for Ed Gorman’s review in the book 1001 Midnights. Gorman writes that Loan Shark has its seedy virtues, and that was enough to get me to track down a copy over the ‘net.

The beginning is terrific. Author J.W. O’Dell lets the reader follow gambler Joe Casey on a tour of Manhattan’s seedy, 42nd-Street neighborhood. Casey knows that he’s being hunted by the loan shark’s thugs, but he isn’t quite ready to stop his hard living. The second chapter takes the reader to Macaluso’s headquarters, where he orders his two thugs to track down Casey – and teach him a lesson. The set up is perfect and author O’Dell almost pulls it off.


There isn’t one huge problem with the book, but O’Dell often kills Loan Shark’s momentum. The biggest issue is that he spreads the plot too thinly for a book that is barely 200 pages. Specifically, he tries to tell the story from four points of view –
1) Casey’s
2) Macaluso’s
3) Macaluso’s thugs (Morty Fine and Pete Demara), and
4) Frank Cassidy (an NYPD cop with a personal interest in the case).
In my humble opinion, Loan Shark would be more compelling had O’Dell limited himself to Casey and Macaluso’s perspectives.

Even granting that Loan Shark never aspires to be fine literature, I can state – without exaggeration – that this book has more typos than any novel that I have ever read. For the most part, the reader has no trouble understanding what is happening, but the typos give the strong impression that Loan Shark was a rush job.

Final Thoughts

Loan Shark is a good, low-rent novel. I do wish that the author and the publisher had taken just a bit more care, because it could have been terrific.


About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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