So much to steal, so many ways to steal it. Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, the good old stickup, and more find their way into this tangy anthology of pieces on Big Apple crime from Adrenaline series editor Willis (NYPD, 2002, etc.).
The writing throughout the 14 previously published selections is crackling good, and the crimes rise off the page in an oily funk from rascals and loathsome perps. Pete Hamill’s “Notes from Underground” lets readers identify with subway gunman Bernard Goetz: “Being trapped on the subway by four bad guys demanding not a dime or a quarter but five dollars is similar to the nocturne about the burglar beside the bed in the dark.” Then come several items voiced with the brilliant, flat delivery of inter–World War writers, including “Mom, Murder Ain’t Polite,” by Meyer Berger (“It has been Anna’s experience that you become accustomed to murder if you see enough of it”), and “The Wily Wilby,” by St. Clair McKelway, who cites an accountant telling his client that a former treasurer of their firm “had hidden his defalcations so adroitly and with such originality that it had been a real pleasure to uncover them.” (The absence of Joseph Mitchell from the collection is felt, though not keenly, since the quality of the material is so high.) A couple of juicy pieces limn post–Civil War New York’s chicanery, corruption, and brutality, a state of affairs that very much included the police, described by Luc Sante in an excerpt from Low Life (1991) as “a repressive and profit-gathering force halfway between gangsters and politicians, having to serve as interpreters between the two.” In “The Annals of Manhattan Crime,” attorney Patrick Wall crisply encapsulates 87 famous crimes committed in the city, and Calvin Trillin contributes a silky-smooth report on two cheesy insider traders, “Marisa and Jeff.”
Highly literate and by turns convincing, depressing, even humorous, thanks to P.G. Wodehouse’s delicious “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.”