THE LAST MADAM

A LIFE IN THE NEW ORLEANS UNDERWORLD

Wiltz’s biography of Norma Wallace, proprietor of New Orleans’s longest continuously operating bordello, exposes the madam’s sordid tricks of the trade, yet somehow manages to strip the most titillating frills away from her story. Wallace, learning early in life that sex could pay for many things she otherwise couldn’t afford, began her life of prostitution in Memphis at the ripe age of 14. With a savvy knack for self-preservation, she returned to her roots in New Orleans and established her own sporting house, beginning her celebrated career as a New Orleans sexual institution. The city’s richest families patronized her establishment, as did movie stars, foreign dignitaries, and local officials. With such a range of clients, Wallace gained access to all the town’s dirty secrets, making her more than a match for the many reform-minded district attorneys and mayors who hankered to shut her down. In addition to Wallace’s professional life, Wiltz (Glass House, 1994, etc.) depicts her subject’s search for domestic bliss with five husbands and many more lovers, including a former boxer punched nearly blind, a hit man for Al Capone, and a young Louisiana buck 39 years her junior who helped her try to go legitimate as the owner of a family restaurant. Wiltz also roams beyond Wallace’s professional and romantic affairs to spotlight her state’s infamously crooked politics, the licensed depravities of the French Quarter, and Wallace’s humorous attempt to realize a pastoral ideal in the backwoods amid a community of righteous citizens. Though using Wallace’s illustrious X-rated career to balance a wider range of Big Easy corruption should produce surefire pleasure, only the most ravenous consumers of brothel culture will stand for Wiltz’s cutesy wordplay (almost 20 percent of the chapter titles pun on “trick”) and pedestrian prose. The real shame here is that Wiltz dressed up her story so licentiously instead of borrowing more of Wallace’s own shoddy finery.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-571-19954-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

LICENSED TO LIE

EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

A former Justice Department lawyer, who now devotes her private practice to federal appeals, dissects some of the most politically contentious prosecutions of the last 15 years.

Powell assembles a stunning argument for the old adage, “nothing succeeds like failure,” as she traces the careers of a group of prosecutors who were part of the Enron Task Force. The Supreme Court overturned their most dramatic court victories, and some were even accused of systematic prosecutorial misconduct. Yet former task force members such as Kathryn Ruemmler, Matthew Friedrich and Andrew Weissman continued to climb upward through the ranks and currently hold high positions in the Justice Department, FBI and even the White House. Powell took up the appeal of a Merrill Lynch employee who was convicted in one of the subsidiary Enron cases, fighting for six years to clear his name. The pattern of abuse she found was repeated in other cases brought by the task force. Prosecutors of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen pieced together parts of different statutes to concoct a crime and eliminated criminal intent from the jury instructions, which required the Supreme Court to reverse the Andersen conviction 9-0; the company was forcibly closed with the loss of 85,000 jobs. In the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a key witness was intimidated into presenting false testimony, and as in the Merrill Lynch case, the prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, a violation of due process under the Supreme court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision. Stevens’ conviction, which led to a narrow loss in his 2008 re-election campaign and impacted the majority makeup of the Senate, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back; the presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate abuses. Confronted with the need to clean house as he came into office, writes Powell, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to take action.

The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61254-149-5

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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