Historian Russell (The Shadow of Blooming Grove, Sacco And Vanzetti: The Case Resolved) here presents a colorful rogues' gallery of politicians and con artists who should have been banned in Boston, but thrived instead. Russell's Knave is the little-known but astonishingly inventive Daniel Coakley, a crooked lawyer who wheeled and dealed his way through the first third of the century--his specialty was catching Social Register types in compromising sexual positions (some of which Coakley himself created) and then shaking them down for thousands. Coakley went on to a nefarious career in politics, and once replied in all seriousness to his many accusers, ""Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."" Included also are standard essays on familiar figures like Mayor James Curly (the prototype for Frank Skeffington in Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah), ""Honey Fitz"" Fitzgerald (JFK's grandfather), and Charles Ponzi (of pyramid scheme fame)--but far more interesting is the tale of ""The Mayor and the Nymphet,"" in which Boston Mayor Andrew James Peters is revealed to be implicated in the 1931 suicide death of the beautiful Starr Faithfull, whom he began molesting when she was 11, after reading out loud to her from Havelock Ellis' Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Or author Russell's own brush with Boston hooliganism in ""The End of Mattapan Macky,"" wherein a boyhood chum turns into the kind of minor crime figure that peoples the novels of George V. Higgins. Rounding out the book is a poignant essay on the disappearance of the Boston that Russell once knew. A funny, informal history of some of Boston's most vivid characters.