Cannell (Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling) provides the definitive account of hit man Abe Reles (1906–1941), who served as the “assassin-in-chief” for the Italian-Jewish mob collaboration known as Murder, Inc.. Reles started his life of crime as a teenager in New York City, as an enforcer for a local racketeer, before his violent nature escalated to homicide. Brooklyn district attorney William O’Dwyer cut a deal with him in 1940 in exchange for testimony against the leaders of Murder, Inc. That bargain provided the prosecutor with a valuable witness who revealed “another America hidden in shadow with its own banks and penal system, its own tax code and law enforcement.” But before Reles could testify, he fell to his death from a Brooklyn hotel window while in protective custody. O’Dwyer supported the theory that Reles fell accidentally during an escape attempt, and though that position was widely derided, no conclusive proof was ever found as to who pushed Reles out the window. Cannell dials in the the right level of detail in this grim story of violence, corruption, and the dogged efforts of law enforcement to break organized crime’s hold on New York City. Readers interested in a non-sensationalized treatment of a major chapter in American crime will be riveted. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Oct.)
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.—Bart Everts, Rutgers Univ.-Camden Lib., NJ
A stool pigeon par excellence takes a dive from a high window and a mystery unfolds.
In 1941, writes Cannell, a gangster named Abe Reles was brought to a Brooklyn hotel and sequestered with a few other criminals in protective custody, preparing to testify in the trial of a mob boss named Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. “The police took up a saying: the canary sang, but could not fly,” writes the author. Somehow, though, the canary did fly: Reles supposedly fell from a window while trying to escape, but anyone with a lick of conspiratorial inclination knew that the story was more complicated. Cannell follows Reles back to his youth as a Jewish street tough in Brooklyn who crossed paths with the fearsome Shapiro brothers, all three of whom he eventually murdered, infamously shooting Meyer Shapiro, who “worked all the rackets,” in the face. To gain permission to move against the Shapiros, Reles had to go toAlbert Anastasia, a top-rank Mafioso. He rapidly became one of the most feared hit men for the pre–World War II mob, the era of bootlegging and illicit gambling. In one notorious case, a union organizer trying to remove the mob from the longshoremen’s association went missing, courtesy of Reles, who “took other measures to protect Anastasia’s hold on the docks.” Alas for him, Reles learned that some of his underlings were feeding the police information and followed suit, providing enough information to send Buchalter to the chair—and Anastasia was next. Cannell stuffs his eventful narrative full of murder and mayhem, featuring a cast of hard-boiled and corrupt cops, extremely nasty gangsters, sleazy politicos, and Reles, a true psychopath. “Who killed Kid Twist?” asks Cannell, using Reles’ nom de crime. It took years and another mob killer to secure the definitive answer, confirmed by none other than Lucky Luciano.
Fans of Mario Puzo–style true crime will revel in Reles’ deviant behavior and his comeuppance.
"A book that can whisk you away to another world – even the Mob underworld – has pronounced value...What Cannell has frozen in sparkling amber is a New York, and indeed a nation, from a century ago. It’s a fascinating and punishing place worth visiting." USA TODAY
“The definitive account of hit man Abe Reles…Cannell dials in the right level of detail in this grim story of violence, corruption, and the dogged efforts of law enforcement to break organized crime’s hold on New York City. Readers interested in a non-sensationalized treatment of a major chapter in American crime will be riveted.” –Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Cannell stuffs his eventful narrative full of murder and mayhem, featuring a cast of hard-boiled and corrupt cops, extremely nasty gangsters, sleazy politicos, and Reles, a true psychopath…Fans of Mario Puzo–style true crime will revel in Reles’ deviant behavior and his comeuppance.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Cannell expertly interweaves stories of Reles and other gangsters with those of the police, prosecutors, and even Mayor Fiorello La Guardia…will resonate with fans of the true crime genre, and mob and crime history.” –Library Journal
"Michael Cannell's impeccable research is exceeded only by compelling writing that has the staccato impact of a Thompson machine gun." —Tom Clavin, bestselling author of Wild Bill and Dodge City
"American mobster history is the gift that keeps on giving, and Michael Cannell's A Brotherhood Betrayed delivers the goods." —T.J. English, bestselling author of Havana Nocturne and The Westies
“Mob books are never this elegant.” —Ron Franscell, bestselling author of The Darkest Night
"Michael Cannell has brought this story alive with novel-like suspense and incredible research. You will love this book. Guaranteed." —D.P. Lyle, award-winning author of Deep Six
Praise for Incendiary:
“Gripping...riveting TV-paced chapters with a novel twist.” —The New York Times
"Incendiary's explosive power come from Cannell's writing...With crisp yet compelling prose, Cannell takes readers back to mid-century New York...you can almost smell the asphalt and taste the Crackerjacks.” —USA Today
“Exceptionally absorbing.” —Adam Woog, Seattle Times
“Fascinating...[Cannell] aptly captures the state of terror created by explosions in random places such as movie theaters and train station restrooms.” —Publishers Weekly
“Taut...the story holds its tension from start to finish through all those twists and turns. A fascinating study not just of a historical crime and its consequences, but also its unintended effects.” Kirkus Reviews
"An impressively researched and deeply engrossing book about a turning point in the investigation of crime in America.” —Skip Hollandsworth, author of The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer
"Thrilling...Cannell brilliantly assembles his facts with an artist's flair and poignancy." —William D. Cohan, bestselling author of The Price of Silence
“A mad bomber goes head-to-head with a pioneer of criminal profiling in this chilling work of narrative nonfiction. Michael Cannell has crafted a gripping and important book with a haunting resonance for our times.” —Daniel Stashower, three time Edgar Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Hour of Peril