This is another book where you really have to be deeply invested in the subject matter to enjoy it. Fortunately, it’s right up my alley. 20s, bootlegging, gangsters, New York City. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
It seems as if there was one running thread that connected gangsters like Arnold Rothstein to politicians like Jimmy Walker to entertainers like the Marx brothers to athletes like Jack Dempsey to the upper crust of Manhattan society, it was sex. Specifically the sex Polly Adler provided in her many and various houses up and down the island. Applegate spends the minimum amount of time on Adler’s background and rise to prominence, with the bulk of the book dedicated to her running her operations while trying to evade the law. She was definitely a right person in the right place at the right time. 1920s New York City was flush with cash and everyone seemed to rub elbows in the same clubs and speakeasies on the way to Polly.
But there’s a reason I did a lot of name dropping in the preceding paragraph (not to jack up the word count for the matter). Debby Applegate’s style itself is to do a lot of name dropping while documenting the specifics of Polly moving her houses from one place to another to evade the authorities. The only difference between the chapters are the timing of the year (1925 was a good year, 1930 was not, etc.). I enjoyed the heck out of it because the names fascinated me and how they all connected to Polly but this is really where you need to decide what your tolerance level is.
I also liked how Debby Applegate covered the hypocrisy of the flesh trade and how Polly was treated. How everyone came running to Polly when they needed a screw but ditched her at the first sign of trouble or how they brought her into a man’s world but always reminded her in one way or another, physically or verbally, that she’s a woman. She made it in a difficult world but it was indeed difficult and Applegate doesn’t shy away from that.
As I said, I enjoyed this one immensely but my recommendations would be specific to those who are interested in the subject or the era.