Middling true-crime life of Mafia kingpin Lucky Luciano, once a byword for the most vicious breed of mobster.
Born Salvatore Lucania in Sicily in 1897, Charles Luciano had been a made man since emerging from the worst tenements of the Lower East Side, writes BBC scriptwriter Newark (Mafia Allies: The True Story of America’s Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II, 2007). That he changed his first name is evidence that he was a fastidious sort who “didn’t like the fact that Salvatore could be shortened to Sal or Sally,” perhaps not the best moniker for someone almost certainly bound for prison. Luciano learned the ropes among fellow up-and-coming mobsters such as Al Capone and Meyer Lansky, but for all the murdering and assorted felonies, Luciano emerges here as a couple of things: first, a careful businessman, and, second, a plant. Having reorganized the Mafia into a modern, streamlined enterprise and run his vast crime organization from a prison in upstate New York, Luciano was deported to Italy after World War II. Lansky, writes Newark, had helped military intelligence nab fascist operators in New York, even allowing federal agents to work as collectors to gather intelligence (said Lansky, “I think this must be the only time the U.S. Navy ever directly helped the Mafia”). Luciano had helped the G-men battle communist organizers in the New York labor unions infiltrated by the mob, keeping supplies flowing to ports in Europe. Newark suggests that the U.S. government may have kept Luciano busy fighting communists as a deep-cover agent while in exile in Italy. More to the point, he was held up as the center of a narcotics-smuggling empire that, the author argues, Luciano did not control—which allowed those federal agencies “to justify their own bloated law enforcement budgets.” That federal authorities and organized crime ever colluded isn’t really news to anyone who follows the organized-crime literature though.
Competent, but no more than that.