Vincent Patrick, an author and screenwriter who set pins at a bowling alley, peddled Bibles door to door and helped start a mechanical engineering firm before finding critical success with his first novel, “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” at 44, died on Oct. 6 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.
The cause was complications of Lewy body dementia, his son Richard said.
The son of a Bronx pool-hall owner and numbers runner, Mr. Patrick was raised in a milieu sprinkled with the grifters, hustlers and mobsters who would eventually become characters in his novels, which also included “Family Business” (1985) and “Smoke Screen” (1999).
In manner and accent, Mr. Patrick seemed like a character he might have dreamed up himself. A 1999 profile in The Los Angeles Times noted that “his voice has that subterranean rumble of an accent, a sound that good character actors try to emulate when playing retired cops or tough but fair patriarchs.”
“The Pope of Greenwich Village,” published in 1979, told the story of Charlie, the down-on-his-luck night manager of a Manhattan saloon, whose cousin Paulie sucks him and a locksmith friend into a perilous plot to crack a safe filled with what turns out to be mob money.
“The connective thread is the sad state of their lives, their disenchantment and the curse of being dreamers,” Joe Flaherty wrote in a review in The New York Times. The novel, he added, “mines territory rarely encountered in fiction and, in the vernacular of his tough, streetwise characters, delivers a sweetheart of a book.”
“Family Business,” the tale of three generations of hustlers from an ethnically mixed New York family, also explored the psychological allure of the big score. Jessie McMullen, the con-man grandfather; Vito, his son, who is in the wholesale meat business; and Adam, his M.I.T.-educated grandson, all find themselves drawn into a risky caper to swipe a plant cell from a California laboratory and sell it to a rival genetic engineering company.
“Mr. Patrick could have drawn these characters with broad strokes, concentrating on the heist, and still have come up with a decent thriller,” Arthur Krystal wrote in The Times. “Instead he chose to provide them with interesting lives and, in the cases of Vito and Adam, with the intelligence and self-doubts of men uncomfortable with their moral upbringing.”
Mr. Patrick himself was quoted by The Times: “There’s a colorfulness about their value systems that makes them attractive to a writer,” he said, “a willingness to take risks and an ability to meet life sort of head-on and wrestle with it and not retreat into a very secure position.”
Some critics were less kind to the feature film versions of both books, which Mr. Patrick himself adapted.