It won’t surprise any savvy reader to learn that politics, commerce and crime go hand in hand. Still, there are plenty of...

SUPERMOB

HOW SIDNEY KORSHAK AND HIS CRIMINAL ASSOCIATES BECAME AMERICA’S HIDDEN POWER BROKERS

There are two kinds of power: the visible and the invisible. Those who wield the latter, writes Russo (Live by the Sword, 1998, etc.), are scarier, more pervasive and harder to bust.

Witness the “supermob,” a term coined to describe the “brilliant, amoral” circle of mostly Ashkenazi, mostly poor friends who grew up in Chicago and settled in Beverly Hills. At the Chicago end stood the “Kosher Calcutta,” a neighborhood that produced such figures as Paul Muni, Wallace Beery, William S. Paley and Jack Ruby. There Sid Korshak got his start, a young lawyer who allegedly advised Al Capone and helped forge an alliance that wedded big labor to big business to big crime to big pictures. Korshak, by Russo’s account, soon had his hands in every criminal enterprise imaginable, and he cut quite a figure as a scene-making, wheeling-and-dealing attorney who exuded a decided air of danger. Hollywood fell hard for Korshak and the supermob, which used the regular mob to its own ends; MGM head Louis Mayer’s best buddy reputedly was gangster Frank Orsatti, while Mafia money reputedly sponsored Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, even Gary Cooper. When Joe DiMaggio and Sinatra broke into the wrong apartment hoping to catch Monroe in a lesbian act, it was Korshak—“the Fixer”—who got them off the hook. When Jimmy Hoffa came to head the Teamsters Union, he “checked with Sidney on everything he did, and he still got in trouble.” Ronald Reagan followed his advice as actor and as politician, while Richard Nixon benefited handsomely from his friendship with Korshak and his close ties to the Teamsters—not least for a Beverly Hills lot bought for $35,000, “far below the listed price of $104,250.”

It won’t surprise any savvy reader to learn that politics, commerce and crime go hand in hand. Still, there are plenty of revelations in this absorbing, if overlong, book.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2006

ISBN: 1-58234-389-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

A RIP IN HEAVEN

A MEMOIR OF MURDER AND ITS AFTERMATH

A wrenching tale of a notorious murder’s long echoes for its survivors.

Cummins terms her debut “both a true crime [story] and a memoir,” intending it to celebrate the lives of her young cousins, Julie and Robin Kerry, killed during a chance encounter in the summer of 1991. Traveling with her family from Washington, D.C., to vacation with relatives in St. Louis, Cummins ruefully recalls, “I thought I was tough.” On their last night in St. Louis, her older brother Tom snuck out with Julie and Robin; the rebellious 18-year-old rookie firefighter had developed a deep emotional bond with his cousins, both lovers of poetry and social justice. The trio went to the decrepit Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, where they ran into four local young men whose friendly demeanor quickly turned savage. The men beat Tom, raped Julie and Robin, then pushed all three into the raging Mississippi River. Only Tom survived, and his family’s horror was compounded when investigators inexplicably charged him with his cousins’ deaths. Tom was held for several grueling days before a flashlight found at the scene led authorities to the real killers, who quickly implicated one another. The least culpable accepted a 30-year plea; the others received death sentences. Identifying herself by her childhood nickname “Tink,” Cummins re-creates these dark events in an omniscient third-person narrative that lends the tale grim efficiency. Although her prose is occasionally purple (“Tink’s blood turned to ice and the room started to spin out from under her feet”), she succeeds overall in acquainting the reader with the horrific toll exacted by proximity to violence. The conclusion, which examines how the cruelest of the murderers became a cause célèbre thanks to his youth, offers astringent commentary on our society’s fascination with killers, who in media coverage often overshadow their victims. Cummins’s memoir does a good job of retrieving the lives of Julie and Robin from that obscurity.

Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-451-21053-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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