Cover Image: Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Deacon King Kong is a crime novel but one like you’ve not read before. Neither  have most pictured the projects of New York as McBride so colorfully describes them. The story did take longer than usual to get onto as the characters where introduced. Each with their memorable nick names and quirky personalities. I came  away with such an attachment to the community, beginning with Sport Coat the deacon and lovable drunk. Who happens to shoot the town drug dealer Deems and swears he doesn’t remember a thing. I fell in love with the church and each of its members too. In addition to a murder mystery it’s a funny and heartwarming story a community that becomes family.
Was this review helpful?
“They saw what she saw, she realized. She read it in their faces. They would never win. The game was fixed. The villains would succeed. The heroes would die. The sight of Beanie's mother howling at her son's coffin would haunt them all in the next few days. Next week, or next month some time, some other mother would take her place, howling her grief. And another after that....But then, she thought, every once in a while there's a glimmer of hope. Just a blip on the horizon, a whack on the nose of the giant that set him back on his heels or to the canvas.”⁣
⁣
Every now and then a book comes along that just seeps into your soul.... you lose yourself among the pages, and become so engrossed in the characters' lives and their community that you find yourself thinking about them long after you have turned the final page. From the opening scene where the elderly, drunken Deacon shoots the local drug dealer in broad day light, to the hunt for the mysterious, buried "bar of soap" and the identity of who delivers the "Jesus cheese", the characters of The Elephant, Sport Coat, Deems and Hot Sausage have stayed with me even though I read the final sentence of this spectacular epic almost two weeks ago.⁣
⁣
Parts of this story are laugh out loud hilarious and then others are so profound it's as if Sister Gee herself has reached out and slapped you hard across the face to ensure that you are truly seeing what is taking place in The Cause. The extensive cast of characters walk the line between darkness and light and what ensues is a stunning mix of grief, friendship and grace. Thank you so much to Riverhead Books for providing an arc through Netgalley. This is one of my top reads of 2020 so run out and I can not rave about it enough.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

The novel is confusing at first, but the plots are tied together at the end of the book.  There are multiple storylines that converge.   Sportcoat is a drunk, a deacon, and a handyman.   He has a good heart and is better to his wife's ghost than he was to her in life.  Through his work in his church and multiple odd jobs, Sportcoat is at the center of business with drug dealers and mobsters.  Even though he runs with a wild crowd, his heart remains pure.
Was this review helpful?
This novel won't require endless reviews to motivate readers pick up Deacon King Kong because McBride has a huge following.  Unfamiliar with this author, I was pleasantly surprised by the crazy characters and the zany plot line of this novel.  I kept thinking about the perfect Motown soundtrack for this novel, which it likely to become a film.    Perfect book for spring break.
Was this review helpful?
Deacon King Kong is a rollicking read filled with humor, crime, faith, passion, empathy and drama. Deacon King Kong is one of the names of the lead character, who is also nicknamed Sportcoat. He goes by the first name because of his role (barely religious) in the church; the King Kong comes from his favorite brew cooked up by one of his old pals. Sportcoat is the name he becomes known as for a particularly noticeable jacket he tends to wear.

The action is in the Cause, a housing project in Brooklyn, during the Sixties (the Mets are predicted to have a shot at the World Series). Life in the projects may be difficult, but the people who live there Blacks, Haitians and Puerto Ricans are together in their celebrations and sorrows. Sportcoat is one of the older members of this group. He is coping with some losses: his wife’s death and the disappearance of the Christmas fund she held.  Sportcoat is frequently revisiting his past. 

But one day he goes to the Cause’s main area where a young drug dealer is plying his trade. Unexpectedly, he fires a gun at him. From this point, McBride spins a tale that is like being immersed in a Jacob Lawrence painting of a vibrant street scene. You don’t know where to look or what to expect. Every character has a story: the Irish police officer, the dignified church woman, the newly released young man returning to the community, an Italian gangster with a hard reputation who harbors softer yearnings, his elderly mother seeking plants in the junk strewn fields. 

McBride captures the rhythms of the times with his characters, language and descriptions. He will capture the heart of a reader. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and the author for the opportunity to read this wonderful book.
Was this review helpful?
How can you resist a tale where some of the leading characters are called Sportcoat, Bum-Bum, Hot Sausage, Soup, The Elephant and Pudgy Fingers? Resistance is futile, friends, so just relax and enjoy this rollicking, laugh-and-cry, picaresque story of love, loyalty, race, blood and, most of all, Brooklyn. Yes, the Borough of Kings. The year is 1969 and the mayor is Lindsay, the Stonewall riots are brewing and Brooklyn is still recovering from the treachery of Walter O'Malley 12 years before, when he tore the Dodgers out of the heart of the community and moved them to Disney's Land. The action is all in the housing projects where dope is flourishing, the church is reeling and people, black, brown and white are being parted from their turf by a man named Moses. This ain't 'The Good Lord Bird' and it's a far cry from "The Color of Water." It's an utterly original fable of fate and friendship and a period of time in the city that never sleeps and sometimes never weeps.
Was this review helpful?
Deacon King Kong was a slow burn that turned into a raging inferno! When I started reading, I was a little unsure about the direction the book was going to take. I was pulled  one way by the wit and humor and pushed another way by the violence and racism. It was quite a read. I will say that the first half was a little slow and took me a while to get into (I even considered abandoning this one for a while), but then I hit the second half and found myself reading long into the night.
Was this review helpful?
What a treat this is!  When Sportcoat shoots Deems it sets off a whole range of effects and emotions among the people of the Cause House Projects in Brooklyn.  Brooklyn in 1969, like the rest of the country, as going through major social and political upheaval.  MacBride has used this neighborhood and these people to subtly (sometimes not so subtly) address these issues.  Each character (and there are a lot of them) has a distinct voice and if it takes a moment to catch their rhythm, well, that was a plus for me.  This might seem meandering at first but it totally pulls together.  Never forget that this is a comedy even when there's darkness.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  Highly recommend.
Was this review helpful?
James McBride is ... I have no words. How does the same man that kept me spellbound in Song Yet Unsung and laughing in The Good Lord Bird turn around and give me Langston Hughes’ Tambourines to Glory vibes in Deacon King Kong? The way his mind works is nothing short of amazing.

I'd highly recommend this for readers who've enjoyed the previously mentioned Langston Hughes book Tambourines to Glory or fans of Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods.
Was this review helpful?
This took a lot longer for me to finish than I was anticipating. It’s not particularly long or dense, but was just difficult to get back into once I put it down. The characters are charming, fleshed-out and full of life, but initially it was hard to connect with what they were doing. 

Honestly I was over halfway through Deacon King Kong wondering what it was even about. I mean, I knew what was happening, but I didn’t understand what James McBride was trying to say. I had no idea where it was headed, even as pieces began to overlap and fall together. The seriousness of the catalyst and crime, Sportcoat shooting a 19-year-old drug dealer in broad daylight, was played against the absurdity of the life he’s leading. I didn’t know how I was supposed to react: should I be on the edge of my seat or should I be cackling at the hijinks of the Cause Houses’ residents? Was Sportcoat’s utter confusion at the crime he was being told he committed funny or sad? 

I think those questions ended up being indicative of the skill in James McBride’s writing. In places of poverty and where the only real ways to get ahead are on the wrong side of the law, you have to be able to find the bright spots or you’ll be drowned in the dark places. You can’t just live to survive.

While I did feel kind of aimless in the first half, the back half was nearly impossible to tear myself away from. I kept hoping for not just an ending, but a resolution. Despite not seemingly having anything in common with a majority of the characters like I initially felt, I became engrossed in their lives. Deacon King Kong is one of those novels whose brilliance sneaks up on you. I haven’t been this pleasantly surprised by a book in a while, and I’ll be looking to pick up more by McBride going forward.
Was this review helpful?
With an amazing grasp of language and dialogue, the author writes of friendship and loyalty as well as darker themes of prejudice, drug culture, and crime in the Cause House projects of New York City in 1969. Despite the heavy themes, this is an almost quiet story that made me laugh out loud a few times. I most enjoyed the well-developed characters (very colorful!) and least appreciated the plot (meandering and repetitive).

Thanks to NetGalley and Riverhead Books/Penguin Group for the ARC to read and review.
Was this review helpful?
Set in 1969, an old African American church deacon kills a drug dealer on his own turf. Riveting story involving the deacon, the dealer, the witnesses, and others that are living in the neighborhood or become/are involved.
Was this review helpful?
I love this book. Within a few pages I settled in with the characters on the benches at the flagpole, gossiping and absorbing the community history and watching as a shocking event unfolds. I was reminded of the first season of The Wire where there was humor to leaven the trials and burdens and even the bad guys were somehow likable. The narrative is straightforward, the dialogue musical .  McBride conveys his care and sympathy with his characters without letting them off the hook.
Was this review helpful?
In his latest novel James McBride dives deep inside Brooklyn's Causeway housing project circa 1969, introducing a multi-ethnic cast connected by the many strands of memory and relationships that weave together their community. A complex character-driven plot is set in motion when a generally peace-loving older resident, the alcoholic church deacon and former baseball coach known as Sportcoat, shocks the neighborhood by shooting an up-and-coming young drug dealer while under the influence of King Kong, a potent local brew. Before the roistering, cinematic plot reaches its conclusion, interrelated secrets involving local leaders, the  police, Italian mobsters, and congregants of Five Ends Baptist Church are revealed. Masterful third-person narration, a strong sense of place, and notable character development more than match McBride's earlier achievement with his phenomenal The Good Lord Bird. This is a must read for anyone seeking first-rate historical fiction. Note: The publisher supplied an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
It is September of 1969 and the world is changing at a rapid pace.  A man has just walked on the moon, Woodstock has rewritten music history, and the New York Mets are about to win the World Series.  But for the residents of Cause Houses, a housing project near the abandoned docks of Brooklyn, the changes are of a much more threatening nature.  The amount of drugs in their midst, with the attendant participation of organized crime, has recently exploded, replacing the more petty forms of graft and corruption the neighborhood has tolerated for decades.  So, when an elderly drunk known to all as Sportcoat shoots a young drug dealer who he used to coach in baseball and teach in Sunday School, it sets in motion a dizzying array of actions and events, the repercussions of which permanently transform the lives of those living around Cause and the Five Ends Baptist church.

In Deacon King Kong, James McBride weaves this amazing story with all the humor, wisdom, and panache that anyone who has read his equally engaging The Good Lord Bird would expect.  Taking off from Sportcoat’s singular act of defiance—which he was too drunk on King Kong, his homebrewed libation of choice, to even remember—the author expands rapidly to describe the many likely and unlikely ties that bind together the people belonging to this multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religion, and multi-generational community. And, to be sure, this tale is nothing if not a celebration of community, taking both the blessings and the warts in the balance.  The people of Cause Houses cannot survive without each other—although they certainly would like to try from time to time—and McBride brings out the essential humanity of the collective lives they lead and the secrets they keep for one another.

I really liked this book, which was a moving and satisfying reading experience from beginning to end.  With Sportcoat (aka Deacon King Kong, for his two most prominent passions), the author has created an unforgettable protagonist for the ages.  In fact, McBride does a wonderful job fleshing out all of the many, many characters—Hot Sausage, Sister Gee, The Elephant, Deems, Hettie, and Officer Potts, to name but a very few—that populate this sprawling patchwork of a story.  This is a novel that is frequently funny, sometimes grim, occasionally thoughtful and philosophical, but never dull.  Above all else, it is a deeply compassionate look at a group of people who never lose faith in themselves or each other, despite facing some very long odds.  I can recommend this book without the slightest hesitation.
Was this review helpful?
This book starts with a BANG (literally). It draws you in and doesn't let you go until the end. I didn't expect to laugh out loud so much with a book that starts with a shooting, but it was oddly funny as well. Pick this one up!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is the first time I have read a book by James McBride so I went into it with no idea what to expect and it took  a lot of pages to decide that I wanted to stick with it. The first few chapters introduced characters who seemed more caricatures than people you might meet in real life and this bothered me so much that I convinced myself that I was not going to like this book. And then something slowly (and I mean slowly) started to happen and that is that i wanted to know more about each of the characters. Characters that I was holding at a distance suddenly started to grow on me.. It wasn't until about 2/3 of the way in that the pages really started turning. It was an experience to read this story and those early caricatures have now turned into memorable characters that I won't soon forget.
Was this review helpful?
James McBride's new novel, Deacon King Kong is a phenomenal story of a community and the webs that connect the people within the neighborhood of New York City's Causeway Housing Project to the world at large. I was torn while reading this book - on one hand, I wanted to read late into the night and see where these people were going; on the other, I wanted to linger and spend my days hanging around the flag pole plaza for as long as possible. 

The story begins in 1969, in the community of the Cause Houses, where an old drunk named Sportcoat shoots a young  baseball phenom called Deems, who has turned from sports to the easy money of drug dealing. The shooting sets off reverberations for the main characters, which ripple out through the community, the church, and into the wider world. 

At base, it's a plot most of us have heard before - poverty, lack of opportunity, and  the promise of easy money leading to drug dealing, crime and competing factions, and ending  in violence and far- reaching consequences for all.  But McBride's genius here is in his web-spinning, the way he illuminates the tenuous, hidden  strands connecting his characters to each other, whether they live in the Cause Houses or on the nearby streets outside. His characters, from Sportcoat himself to Sister Gee and The Elephant, are so vividly drawn that I know I'll be thinking about them for a long time to come. These people are not caricatures. They are full-fledged beings with particular histories and motivations that make the reader laugh with them and grow anxious about what the future holds for them. McBride has endowed them with a depth of humanity that's truly touching, whether that connection stems from delight or sorrow. A story with heart and love and wit, Deacon King Kong celebrates what it is to be in and of community, our lives touching others, and theirs touching us.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Few authors create characters quite like James McBride.  From Sportcoat and Hot Sausage, to Detective Potts (so named because he couldn't say 'potatoes' as a child) and the Elephant, McBride brings his characters to life in such a way that I feel like I could meet these folks on the street.  Deacon King Kong is a story about a community, and how they work together and help each other in all ways, small and large.  I enjoyed this so much, and I hope the title doesn't make potential readers pass this over, because they would be missing out on a rollicking good read.
Was this review helpful?
Epic mystery set around 1969, featuring a bit too many characters for me to keep track of comfortably, although I do appreciate the wide range of their colors: Irish, Italians, and the mostly Southern-born Christian black community in and around the Cause House projects of New York City. 

I loved reading James McBride's memoir The Color of Water a million years ago, his candid nature and his admiration of his mother, his low-key humor, it was all beautiful and so well-written that reading it was effortless. I actually didn't realize Deacon King Kong is written by the same James McBride until I saw it classified as such on GoodReads.
Was this review helpful?