A worthwhile history lesson, less compelling as a personal crime drama.

SATAN’S CIRCUS

MURDER, VICE, CORRUPTION AND NEW YORK’S TRIAL OF THE CENTURY

Dash (Batavia’s Graveyard, 2001, etc.) provides a colorful tour of early-20th-century New York in this Police Gazette–style tale of the only New York cop ever executed for murder.

The killing of well-known gambler Herman Rosenthal took place in 1912 outside a midtown hotel in “Satan’s Circus,” the street name for midtown Manhattan’s wide-open Tenderloin district. The author has done a herculean job of ferreting out the comings and goings of a menagerie of hookers and hoodlums, introducing us to folks with names like Gyp the Blood, Lefty Louie and Bald Jack Rose. He also provides some eye-opening evidence on the corruption that permeated the city, which served as the personal playground of Tammany Hall bosses, gambling czars like Arnold Rothstein and policemen who with impunity neatly carved up millions in bribes and graft money. Dash delivers their stories in a clear if rather wooden prose offset by anecdotes and nuggets of trivia. (For instance, the fact that assistant police commissioner Winfield Sheehan later went to Hollywood and discovered Rita Hayworth and John Wayne.) The author’s chief problem lies in the character of his protagonist, corrupt police lieutenant Charley Becker. Early on in his career, Becker had a well-publicized run-in with young writer Stephen Crane over his false arrest of a prostitute. At the time of his trial, he admitted to massive bribe-taking during his years on the police force. Generating sympathy for this dour, stone-faced brute would have been a tall order in any case, but Dash fails to provide more than a grainy out-of-focus portrait. Nor, for that matter, does he offer a verdict on whether Becker was actually guilty of the celebrated murder or not. Copious notes and research buttress the text, but photographs of at least some of the colorful heroes and villains who roam its pages would have livened things up considerably.

A worthwhile history lesson, less compelling as a personal crime drama.

Pub Date: June 12, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-5471-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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