Loyalty is a psychological action novel of betrayal and revenge centering on three Boston-area Irish-American brothers during the period 1947-1982. Focusing on the oldest brother, Jack Kelly, the emotionally complex and deeply alienated protagonist, the cinematic narrative chronicles the conflicts between his Boston Irish crime family and Irish rivals on New York's West Side, Italian dons in Boston and New York, and Black gangsters in Roxbury. It also traces Kelly's existential struggles as he seeks to find his way in what he sees as an unfair and amoral world.
Shadowed by the early death of his mother and the abuse of his alcoholic father, Kelly plays the devoted father and protector of his brothers -- Tommy, a promising middleweight boxer and Jerry, a bright Harvard undergraduate who eventually establishes a legitimate business. Jack executes an elaborate plan to thwart a fight-fixing scheme initiated by Connie Ryan, leader of the New York Westies, thus protecting Tommy but setting off a decades-long vendetta by the Westies' leader.
Kelly's relations with women are undermined by a too deep attachment to the memory of his dead mother and by his own one-way brand of loyalty that denies any real place in his heart to Marjorie, with whom he fathers two sons before they separate; Courtney Stahl, a sexy lawyer who eventually becomes disenchanted with him; and Catherine Slatery, the widow of one of his lieutenants. Family relationships become more strained as Kelly's son and nephew are drawn into his crime circle. As the net of deflected threats from the FBI, seen and unseen adversaries, and an informer within his own organization tighten around him, Kelly moves to eliminate his enemies, particularly Connie Ryan, who has made known his deadly intentions toward Kelly, his son, and his nephew, the heir apparent to his fraternity of crime.
The novel is rife with inventive incident, is evocative of the political, social, and physical atmosphere of the post-war decades, and offers a rogue's gallery of interesting secondary characters. The presence of the sea and the city is keenly felt and intimately connected to the psychological action of the story. Always on the move, Kelly ends as he began, the existential outsider who thumbs his nose at an unfair universe and whose ultimate loyalty is to no one and no thing.