Ever since I read Don Winslow’s The Winter of Frankie Machine last year, I’ve been obsessed with SoCal mobster tales. Martin Scorsese came close to adapting Frankie Machine before he was seduced by Charles Brandt’s inferior I Heard You Paint Houses, which he turned into The Irishman. If Scorsese had wanted to do a lion-in-winter mafia tale, I wish he had done Frankie or a movie on Rosselli’s life. Both of which are more interesting than another northeastern gangster story.
Lee Server is an expert on pop history, with bios of Ava Gardner and Robert Mitchum under his belt. Here, he brings to life a man who operated in the shadows of the organized crime scene out on the west coast, first in Los Angeles, then in Las Vegas, while maybe doing some side work for the United States government to get Castro. Yeah, Johnny Rosselli lived a hell of a life but Server knows how to tell the story in an effective way without resorting to sensationalism. It’s a great pop biography, readable and with all the right details in all the right places.
Moreover, I was glad he shed a light on how the mob in LA actually worked, from prohibition through their decline in the 60s and 70s. I’ve read enough Mickey Cohen tales to know there’s more to the story and Server has it. Rosselli lived it in a way only a guy who reads like he was invented by James Ellroy can. This was a fun rollicking read perfect for anyone interested in the subject.