The Brooklyn Iceman is a colorful saga spanning the 20th century from 1915 until the 1980's, using one man's experience to illustrate many of the important historical and cultural events of the era from the perspective of a pragmatic and amoral individual.
The novel follows Vincenzo Castella, an intelligent and pragmatic man, whose story begins with becoming an iceman in Brooklyn as a teenager and moving on from there into a position of leadership among the icemen. He finds himself drifting into relationships with criminal groups and is finally confronted with the harsh reality that he has, in fact, become a criminal himself, by association: the reluctant criminal.
His reputation with the camorra becomes almost legendary as a man who makes money for them. He achieves his goals through his wits and natural business acumen, not like so many others, who achieve success by violence and fear.
Through Vincenzo's journey, readers gain unique insight into the important historical and cultural events of the era: from the early days of horse drawn delivery wagons followed by trucks, such as the garbage trucks, ice trucks and concrete trucks described in the story.
The Brooklyn Iceman tells about the changing scenario from ice to refrigeration, coal to oil, and the early start-ups of the computer business and the HMO business.
The story also defines the journey of the first, second and future generations of Italian immigrants in their quest to establish a good and secure life for themselves and their families. Many of these hardworking men -- and only very few of them actually resorted to crime, regardless of what Hollywood seems to think -- turned to people like Castella to help them understand how to succeed in the new world.
Most of the men created in this story were either unaware or unconcerned about transgressing the laws of the society to which they barely belonged. If the Americans wanted to drink illegal alcohol, and they needed ice for their drinks, why should they, the simple iceman, deprive these rich Americans from having their ice?
The results of their work is that two and three generations later, the Monte's and the Castigliano's and the Salerno's and the Laguzzo's became the doctors and lawyers and business people that their mothers and fathers worked hard to raise.