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Gangster City


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It was Bugsy Siegel who famously explained, "We only kill each other," a half-truth about organized crime that may account for the voyeuristic attraction many Mobwatchers feel for their bloody subject. In Gangster City, however, stand-up comic and Mob-obsessive Downey transforms a period of epidemic gangster turf wars in New York City (1900-35) into a series of sketchily drawn characters and violent streetscapes that make for strangely unvivid reading ("When Piazza arrived and started up the front stairs, the Jewish gangsters opened fire. Unfortunately, Frederick Strauss, an innocent bystander walking past the hall, was struck by a bullet and killed"). While it's clear he's read the books, his command of the literature seems undiscriminating, leaning a little too credulously on the romantic tales of Herbert Asbury (Gangs of New York), for instance. The serious Mob collector may want Downey's book as a comprehensive who-fell-where source, but as a thing to read it is an uncompelling catalog of gangster killings. Lunde's Organized Crime may both delight and frustrate aficionados of Mafia books, since it also unblinkingly treats other criminal organizations (such as the Hell's Angels or various drug cartels) that have comparatively little gravitas or romantic lore. While groups such as the Russian "Mafiya" or the tatooed criminal cult of the Japanese Yakuza are sensational newsy subjects, readers drawn in by such features as the two-page spread on the 1957 barbershop rubout of Albert Anastasia will wish the author had stuck to extending his knowledgeable narrative of the life of the American Mafia. Lunde makes a thoughtful argument crediting the famous 1950-51 Senate Kefauver hearings with disseminating the damaging idea that the syndicate-that most American invention of ethnic collaboration-was entirely an Italian import. This handsomely illustrated work does not displace the peerless Mafia references of Carl Sifakis but is necessary for crime collections.-Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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