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Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles Mass Market Paperback – July 31, 2012
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“I'm all in on this book. Got a little Mission Impossible in there. Got a little Dirty Dozen in there. Got a little Bud White from L.A. Confidential in there. All set on the mean Noir streets of L.A. I dig the circa. I did the milieu. And I dig the cast of characters.” ―Dennis Miller
About the Author
PAUL LIEBERMAN is a journalist with more than a quarter century of experience as a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has won dozens of journalism honors, most for investigative projects, including the Robert F. Kennedy Awards Grand Prize, a George Polk Award, Gerald Loeb Award, American Society of Newspaper Editors Award and Scripps Howard Foundation Award. He also shared in two team Pulitzer Prizes at the L.A. Times, as a writer on its coverage of the Los Angeles Riots and an editor of its reporting on the Northridge Earthquake. A native New Yorker, Lieberman is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where he studied law and social history. He lives in Westchester County with his wife, a school administrator.
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Journalist Paul Lieberman's 500-plus page account of the LAPD's Gangster Squad is a highly readable, page-turning account of the men whose shadowy crusade against the rise of organized crime in their city arguably changed the face of law enforcement forever. The Los Angeles of the early twentieth-century was a city on the cusp of great and profound change. With the rise of the film industry, LA was becoming an entertainment mecca -- and during the Depression years thousands sought their fortunes under California's sun-drenched skies. The advent of World War II brought a serious population boom to LA, as the city quickly swelled to become one of the top five most populated cities in America. But along with the burgeoning entertainment and industrial sectors came imports of a less desirable sort -- gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen who sought to establish gaming and protection racket empires of their own, set to rival their eastern counterparts in Chicago and New York. And thus ten-Chief C.B. Horrall greenlit the formation of the Gangster Squad, the elite, off-the-books, virtually invisible team was hand-picked for their brawn or their brains, and their willingness to completely dedicate themselves to ridding LA of the invading gangster menace.
What is perhaps most amazing about the Gangster Squad is the virtually unquestioned autonomy they were given in their assignment to investigate, tail, and harass the gangster element. Initially their only offices were two beat-up sedans wherein meetings were scheduled on shadowy corners and in vacant lots via coded messages. Since they weren't officially recognized (at least in the first years), they were given free rein to use any method at their disposal to clean up LA's streets -- unwarranted wire taps, their fists -- if a bookie or pimp was "encouraged" to leave town it was tallied a win, no matter the circumstances. What intrigued me most about the team was their pioneering investigative methods. Led by brilliant "bug man" Con Keeler, the squad pioneered new forms of electronic surveillance and wire tapping. And in an age when J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI refused to acknowledge the existence of an organized mafia in America, the Gangster Squad was among the first to meticulously document the network of connections between LA operatives and their east coast counterparts, building massive handwritten dossiers on targets openly operating in the shadow of the law.
Lieberman's extensive exploration of the Gangster Squad's activities, its members (particularly straight-arrow John O'Mara and the roguish Jerry Wooters relative to Mickey Cohen), and their targets, is a highly readable, fast-paced account of a transformative era in the history of American law enforcement. Whether or not you agree with their methodology, Gangster Squad is a fascinating examination of the lengths a group of men were willing to go to in order to stand in the gap for their family and city in peril from gangsters who regularly got away with murder. Lieberman's prose and colorful metaphors pack a punch suggestive of the likes of Chandler, bringing his history to life with a flair worthy of a noir classic. I do with a character list, index, and bibliography were included -- the foremost particularly since due to the scope of the history and Lieberman's not exactly linear storytelling it can be difficult to keep the players straight. That aside, for those intrigued by this tumultuous time period Gangster Squad is a fast-placed, not-to-be-missed thrill ride -- an absorbing and thought-provoking window into an explosive period of American history.
The author provides a bit of history on many of the important figures of the day that are illustrated in the movie. However, he gives them greater dimension as he describes the socio-political background of the era.
I did enjoy reading the history as lived and perceived by the actual members of the squad. The writing is clean and without a lot of subjective views of the author.
I recommend this to anyone who wants a quick over view of LAPD and its evolving history.