A less than compelling crime-doesn't-pay saga.




The notorious Sing Sing prison may be the most memorable character in this grim tale of crime and punishment.

Home of the electric chair in which 614 men and women (including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) were executed, it was the setting for James Cagney's famous “last mile” walk in the film Angels with Dirty Faces and several other 1930s B-movies. Goewey, the son, grandson and brother of Sing Sing guards, effectively relates the infamous prison’s lore. He also does a creditable job of re-creating the grimy pre–World War II Hell's Kitchen neighborhood that serves as the story's other major backdrop. It was there, amid the West Side waterfront and nearby tenements, that “Whitey” Riordan and “Patches” Waters grew up, young street toughs whose hardscrabble childhoods seemed inexorably to lead to depressingly brief lives of crime. Riordan was first arrested in 1927, at age 12, and spent much of his life in and out of prison. He later joined neighborhood pal Waters to form the notorious “Shopping Bag Gang,” resulting in their jailing at Sing Sing in 1940 following a string of armed robberies. Unfortunately, Riordan, Waters and their “breakout” partner, another hardened con named Charlie McGale, hardly make for intriguing characters. Small-time hustlers turned career criminals, they never rise above the level of unsavory hoodlum. Moreover, the infamous “crash out” recounted here turns out to be a comedy of errors in which the carefully conceived escape plan collapses even before it begins, leading to the deaths of two police officers. Adding to the anticlimactic feel of the story is the fact that our Sing Sing fugitives were captured within a few miles of the prison only hours after their escape. Oddly, Goewey never provides the names of the police officers who brutally interrogated the captured fugitives, beatings that would have surely warranted a full-scale investigation today. It's also disappointing that he doesn't include any of the numerous photographs that documented the capture and subsequent trial.

A less than compelling crime-doesn't-pay saga.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-5469-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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