A Brotherhood Betrayed: The Man Behind the Rise and Fall of Murder, Inc

Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781250204387. $27.99. LAW
Led by Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a Jewish gangster from Brooklyn, Murder, Inc. was likely responsible for dozens of executions in 1930s and 1940s New York, New Jersey, and beyond. Cannell (Incendiary) expertly interweaves stories of Reles and other gangsters with those of the police, prosecutors, and even Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, whose campaign promises included dismantling Murder, Inc. and prosecuting Reles and company. Reles was responsible for the shockingly cruel deaths of upward of 50 people, described in vivid detail by Cannell. Though well researched, the book suffers at times from an overuse of adjectives, perhaps mimicking the pulp true crime fashionable in the era of Murder, Inc. While it is Italian American gangsters who are most remembered today, Cannell reminds readers of an era when many other first-generation immigrants of different ethnic backgrounds found success in the underworld. His narrative serves as a who’s who of prewar Jewish assassins, although the work leans more toward titillation than social anthropology. Cannell also examines the mystery of Reles’s death, which would have long-term consequences for the district attorney who convinced Reles to turn state’s witness.
VERDICT Will resonate with fans of the true crime genre, and mob and crime history.
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