Book review and synopsis for Deacon King Kong by James McBride, a lively and compassionate story about a shooting in the projects of South Brooklyn.
SynopsisIn Deacon King Kong, Cuffy "Sportcoat" Lambkin is a 71-year-old deacon for a church in the projects. One day, he gets trashed and goes to the neighborhood plaza and shoots Deems Clemens, a ruthless 19-year-old local drug dealer. Sixteen people see the shooting, but no one talks. In Deacon King Kong, author James McBride explores the aftermath of the shooting and the effect on both the people involved and others around them in this oft-neglected neighborhood in South Brooklyn. From the gangsters, to the church-goers and the cops sent to investigate, the shooting sets off a dramatic chain of events. As its characters' lives intersect, Deacon King Kong tells a vivid story that's humorous but also full of warmth, energy and compassion.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Deacon King KongQuick Plot Summary
In September 1969 in South Brooklyn, 71-year-old Deacon Cuffy Jasper Lambkin, also known as "Sportcoat", drunkenly goes to the plaza of the Causeway Housing Projects and shoots Deems Clemens, a 19-year-old local drug dealer. No one knows why he shot him. Sergeant Potts, an older officer, and his young partner, Officer Mitch, are sent to investigate and arrest Sportcoat. Sixteen people saw the shooting, but no one talks.
Sportcoat is the deacon of the community church, Five Ends Baptist, and a good man. But he's also a drunk who has had a rough life and whose wife Hettie died two years prior. He still has imaginary conversations with her (often regarding some missing church funds that she took). He was also once the coach for the Causeway baseball team, and Deems was once its star player. However, after his grandfather died, Deems left to deal drugs and is now part of a network of dealers controlled by Bunch Moon.
Everyone assumes Sportcoat is a dead man after the shooting, but Deems doesn't retaliate against Sportcoat because of their history. Bunch sends Earl, his right-hand-man, to rough up Sportcoat (to send a warning about disrupting his business), but Earl's attempts are comedically thwarted each time. Potts's investigation is also hindered by everyone's vague answers about Sportcoat's whereabouts, so Sportcoat remains a free man.
Elsewhere in the Causeway, Tommy Elephante (the "Elephant") is a guy who deals in storing and moving contraband, though he refuses to mess with drugs. (Coincidentally, Sportcoat works as a gardener for Elephante's mother one day a week.) Tommy wants to marry a nice woman, move to a farm and get out of this life. He is approached by someone called The Governor, who knew his father, Guido, in prison. Guido was storing a valuable item (a small statue called the Venus of Willendorf) for the Governor before he passed away. The Governor has a buyer offering 3 million for it, and he wants Elephante's help so they can locate it and sell it together.
Meanwhile, there's a drug war brewing. Bunch's supplier is Joe Peck, an Italian mobster, but Bunch has a plan to cut Peck out. Bunch also gets wind that Deems has an idea to cut Bunch out and deal with Peck directly. As a result, Bunch brings in a dangerous killer, "Harold Dean" (which turns out to be Haroldeen), to deal with Sportcoat, Deems and Peck.
One night by the pier, Sportcoat wants to talk to Deems about giving up the drug trade and playing ball again. However, Haroldeen makes her move, shooting Deems, Sausage (Sportcoat's best friend) and Beanie (Deems's right hand man). Sausage survives, but Beanie dies. Deems falls in the water and nearly drowns, but Sportcoat saves him. Afterwards, Haroldeen (who works for but has been misused by Bunch) meets up with Bunch and gets half her money. The other half is due when the rest of the job is completed, but she betrays him instead and leads Peck to him. Peck and his men kill Bunch.
After the pier shooting, Sportcoat realizes he wants to get sober. He goes to visit Sister Paul, one of the original founders of Five Ends Baptist. She tells him how Five Ends got started. It involved a young Guido Elephante preventing a young Officer Potts from getting shot. That same night, Guido asked a passerby, Sister Paul, for help in driving away some stolen cargo. Later, Guido repaid that favor by helping them secure the land for the church. He also asked them to hide the Venus of Willendorf statue for him, something only Sister Paul (and now Sportcoat) knew about.
Time passes. Sportcoat relays this story to Elephante, and Elephante gets engaged to the Governor's daughter. They find the statute, and Elephante does his deal. Afterwards, Elephante helps Sportcoat by replacing the missing church money and paying to renovate the church.
Twenty-two months after Sportcoat shot Deems, Sportcoat passes away. Deems is now playing pro-ball. Sportcoat knew that he would drink again, so he decides to go to the harbor instead where Hettie killed herself and walk into the water. As he does, he tells Sausage the water is beautiful and drowns himself.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.