The dark, dark story of the sunny American Riviera.
Investigative reporter Posner (Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection, 2005, etc.) marshals more than 200 personal interviews and oceans of research to trace the troubled history of Miami Beach, the seductive city with stunning beauty and beset by vice. In 1913, Carl Fisher—a voluble daredevil, promotional genius and virulent racist and anti-Semite—saw in the swampland of Miami a potential tourist’s paradise. He set about developing the area with a combination of recklessness, greed and hubris that would characterize subsequent generations of speculators. Major obstacles to this dream of an upscale tropical playland included an entrenched community of poor elderly retirees and vicious gangs of criminals emanating from the infamous Mariel Boatlift of 1980, during which Fidel Castro opened Cuba’s prisons and insane asylums, sending tens of thousands Cuban miscreants into the region with predictably catastrophic results. Posner deftly cuts between accounts of horror and deprivation endemic to the area with such sparkling monuments to luxury as the Fontainebleau Hotel, beloved local institutions like Joe’s Stone Crab, glittering nightclub pleasure palaces like the Forge and Nu and the beautiful Art Deco architecture that gives the Miami Beach its iconic skyline. The author covers the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and the recent economic crash, illustrating Miami Beach’s paradoxical nature as both paradise and purgatory. The narrative is dense with information, and the many players and their complicated wheeling and dealing can difficult to follow. However, the story is fast-moving and colorful and features such scene notables as mob bosses Meyer Lansky and Al Capone, actors Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rourke, ’80s party girl and nightclub promoter Ingrid Casares and charismatic, corrupt mayor Alex Daoud. Tales abound of the exploits of the “cocaine cowboys” and their astonishing mountains of dirty cash, the impact of entertainments such as Miami Vice and Scarface and Miami’s emergence as a fashion capitol, culminating in the sensational murder of designer Gianni Versace.
An awesome catalog of crime, corruption, depravity and visionary chutzpah.