From Publishers Weekly
By turns fascinating and familiar, Walsh's third novel (after Exchange Alley and As Time Goes By) is a fictionalized account of the life of Owen Madden, the so-called "Irish Godfather," who became an organized crime giant during the Prohibition years, running in the same circles as Al Capone, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. The chapters describing Madden's early childhood in Leeds and his impoverished family's immigration to New York are boilerplate, but the story picks up considerably when Madden begins his life of crime at age 10, joining a local Irish gang in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Monk Eastman, a Jewish Tammany Hall boss with criminal operations on the Lower East Side, takes Madden under his wing and teaches him the business. Madden starts selling beer during Prohibition and makes a killing, though a few stints in jail and a duel with his best friend and beer-selling rival Dutch Schultz cramp his style a bit. Walsh saves his best material for the end, when Franklin Roosevelt turns up the heat on Madden during his presidential campaign, vowing to crack down on corruption. Walsh spices up the novel with cameo appearances by George Raft, Jack Johnson, Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, though these scenes are sometimes little more than opportunities for name-dropping. The subplot about Madden's attempts to keep his louche buddies away from his sister, May, is lifeless, but the novel is saved by a crisp, compelling finale. In all, a lively slice of gangster life, though the novel's weak spots make this a slower read than it should be.
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Walsh, author of As Time Goes By
(1998) and Exchange Alley
(1997), offers a compelling novel in the guise of the autobiography of Irish gangster Owen ("Owney") Madden, raised in New York's infamous Hell's Kitchen (though born of lrish parents in England). Early on, Madden set his mind on becoming the first among the gangsters and, thus, to have the city at his feet. In the age of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello, Madden carved out a turf that included ownership of the famed Cotton Club. A major influence with Tammany Hall and even Hollywood (he was one of Mae West's lovers and was responsible for George Raft's success), Madden later devoted his "talents" to making Hot Springs, Arkansas, a major center of gangsterism. By allowing Madden to present his own tale, Walsh offers an unusual perspective of one man's lifetime pursuit to be the best gangster of all. Fittingly, Walsh's novel is reminiscent of Roddy Doyle's novel A Star Called Henry
(1999), a first-person narrative of a fictionalized underground figure. Allen WeaklandCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved