The Bulldog Detective: William J. Flynn and America’s First War Against the Mafia, Spies, and Terrorists

Prometheus. Jan. 2024. 288p. ISBN 9781633888654. $29.95. BIOG
Historian and former RAND analyst Simon (America’s Forgotten Terrorists: The Rise and Fall of the Galleanists) presents the career of William James Flynn (1867–1928), who served as the director of the Bureau of Investigation (the antecedent to the FBI) from 1919 to 1921. Preceded by two others, but with a sobriquet that speaks to his dogged determination, Flynn led federal offensives against organized crime, anarchists, terrorists, and spies. As the head of the BI (which assumed the name FBI in 1935), he was on the scenes of the unsuccessful inquiry into the 1920 Wall Street bombing and the all too resonant Palmer raids. In constant competition with William John Burns, who succeeded him, he launched his own detective agency, as did Burns. An incorruptible hard-liner, he later wrote articles about his exploits, plus crime novels and scenes for cliff-hanger film serials.
VERDICT Readers intrigued by recent FBI histories such as Beverly Gage’s G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century should access this first comprehensive biography of one of Hoover’s predecessors. It has the rapid pace of a spy novel. For specialists and generalists alike.
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