Look, I am very simple. I like mob books, especially but not limited to ones set in New York City. If you write a good mob tale, fiction or non-fiction, I’ll devour it and give you your credit.
So that’s what I’m here to do with this one.
I’ve been curious about the Abe Reles story ever since reading Kevin Baker’s flat, unoriginal The Big Crowd. His ghost seemed to loom over everything mob and politic related in New York for decades. The head of the mob’s elite hit squad, Reles was at the time the highest ranking mob informant, until he took a dive out of his six story hotel window in Coney Island before he could give up big time boss Albert Anastasia.
Cannell does a great job telling his story and that of Murder, Inc. and gangsterism at large. He doesn’t allow the tale to get saturated with details, rather he catalogs the facts and presents them in a readable manner. This probably won’t be different than dozens of other mob tales you’ve read before but if that’s a problem, see paragraph one.
If I have but a small beef with the book, it’s that Cannell leans a little too hard on the political intrigue at the end. I was hoping for more info that would link Mayor O’Dwyer to Reles’ murder but there’s really not much besides character inference. Cannell does a great job of explaining how Reles’ death loomed over the Mayor’s second term and how it was the catalyst for a public corruption investigation that ultimately ousted the Mayor. But as far as tying him to the machinations of Reles’ death, I don’t think it worked.
At any rate, I finished this yesterday and was in Brooklyn last night. The sky was foggy and it gave the atmosphere an appropriately noir-ish feel. Cannell’s closure about how Reles’ ghost still haunts the city felt eerily familiar.