A messy entry in a category of sportswriting that’s produced much better.

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JACOBS BEACH

THE MOB, THE FIGHTS, THE FIFTIES

A grab bag of stories about the American boxing world and how the Mob transformed it in the 1950s.

Jacobs Beach wasn’t actually a beach, but a stretch of pavement in Manhattan around which the boxing world revolved from the mid-’30s to the late-’50s. There, tickets for bouts at Madison Square Garden were sold, pairings were hashed out, drinks were swilled and mobsters jostled to manipulate the outcome of individual fights. By the end of the ’50s, professional boxing was so transparently corrupt that Sen. Estes Kefauver launched hearings on the Mob’s control of the sport, attracting millions of viewers through television. Thanks to the scrutiny, London Observer chief sportswriter Mitchell (War, Baby: The Glamour of Violence, 2001, etc.) writes, the boxing world is now more aboveboard but less entertaining than it used to be. The author knows his boxing history, and he delivers plenty of information on people like Mike Jacobs (the ticket-seller for whom the “beach” was named), boxers Joe Louis and Jake LaMotta, trainers and managers like Cus D’Amato and mobsters like Frankie Carbo. Unfortunately, Mitchell shows little interest in adhering to a narrative thread while discussing the world around Madison Square Garden, which makes his book feel like what the old-school reporters he admires called a notebook dump. Paragraphs leap from detailed information about fight purses to the Kefauver hearings to musings on the ring styles of fighters like James J. Braddock and Kid Gavilan. Mitchell also affects a tough-talking tone that’s presumably meant to evoke the noirish spirit of the times but too often makes him appear superior to the subject he’s discussing. In the later chapters, the author all but abandons any pretense of organization and instead delivers a series of profiles of luminaries like promoter Don King, painter LeRoy Neiman and On the Waterfront writer Budd Schulberg. Mitchell’s access to such people is impressive, but the interviews do more to burnish outsize reputations than illuminate boxing’s underworld.

A messy entry in a category of sportswriting that’s produced much better.

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60598-123-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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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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