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



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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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"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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