Seattle Times investigations editor Neff (The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case, 2001, etc.) turns his attention to the visceral war of wills between Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.
This account of Kennedy’s crusade against corrupt union officials and organized crime may not be as cinematic as Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies or as darkly subversive as the fiction of James Ellroy, although it does share a kindred spirit with them. However, by transposing these two larger-than-life characters and utilizing his own considerable investigative skills, Neff succeeds in shining a light on one of the darker corners of American history. The book opens on a critical moment, as Kennedy learns of the assassination of his brother in Dallas and Hoffa coldly observes, “Bobby Kennedy is just another lawyer now.” From there, the story jumps back to 1956, when Kennedy was chief counsel for the Senate investigations committee and Hoffa was vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, using intimidation, threats, fraud, and violence to control his sphere of influence. Their conflict was inevitable, as Kennedy saw Hoffa as “weak, unbalanced, crooked and greedy,” while Hoffa considered the Kennedy brothers to be “ ‘spoiled brats,’ soft-handed Ivy League types who had little understanding of the working man.” Neff deftly portrays their volatile relationship through the McClellan Committee hearings in the Senate, where Hoffa displayed an intuitive ability to avoid telling the truth, all the way through the Kennedy presidency, when the younger Kennedy used his startling appointment as Attorney General to form the “Get Hoffa” squad to dig deep into the labor leader’s taxes and finances. At times, the book reads like a spy novel, as both camps used double agents, secret recordings, tails, and blackmail to keep track of their opponents. Ultimately, Kennedy is something of an enigma, while Neff paints Hoffa as having a grudging affection for his nemesis.
The sordid, sweeping history of what Kennedy insider Pierre Salinger dubbed “a blood feud.”