Meticulous, squalidly atmospheric reconstruction of a landmark case.



A sensational 1912 murder dissected as a watershed event in the history of organized crime in New York City.

Seasoned magazine and newspaper journalist Cohen joins a number of writers who have taken on the intrigue and lingering doubts surrounding the trial of the only New York police officer ever executed for murder. Becker’s actual guilt or innocence in ordaining a hit on smalltime gambler Beansie Rosenthal may remain forever moot, the author allows. In the steamy summer of 1912, Rosenthal, one of countless numbers of brothel and “casino” operators—all strictly illegal—in New York’s Tenderloin District (now the Times Square area) got fed up with Lieutenant Becker’s constantly shaking him down. The process was, Cohen avers, so regular and perfunctory it was known simply as The System. Becker, one of the dirtiest cops on a dirty force, answered only to state senator Tim Sullivan in Tammany Hall; “between them,” Cohen states, “they had begun to give shape to . . . the incipient structure of organized crime.” But Rosenthal found an eager young District Attorney, Charles S. Whitman, ready to listen to revelations on police corruption, and then to massively leak them to a friendly newspaper reporter. Result: Two days after talking to the DA, Rosenthal was called out of a late-night café in midtown and gunned down by four men. Three years later, implicated by “friends” on the force as well as his criminal enemies, Becker was electrocuted at Sing Sing after two trials that blew NYPD corruption into a public frenzy. Later, when the advent of Prohibition vastly fattened the pot, payoffs went directly to the crime bosses and crooked politicians. “[Cops] would get their cut,” writes Cohen, “but they were now on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.”

Meticulous, squalidly atmospheric reconstruction of a landmark case.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-7867-1757-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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


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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