Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman

Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman
Thomas Dunne Books,  August  2012

Los Angeles in the middle of the century conjures up images of lights gleaming below Mulholland, starlets waiting in diners to be discovered, and the sunny promise of America’s shining future. However, for most people familiar with the crime genre, it will also conjure images of Marlowe in dark alleys, the Black Dahlia, and gang violence pouring out of every seedy shop off the main drags. GANGSTER SQUAD focuses on the true stories of the men on the LAPD fighting to keep the Dragnas and Cohens under control as the gun play threatens to take over the once peaceful boulevards.

Over a decade before J. Edgar Hoover acknowledged the existence of a mafia, the LAPD assembled a group of men to take on the task of breaking the criminal empires that were flooding into LA from Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. In Lieberman’s book, he assembles the true stories of the gangsters and those tasked to fight them. Each member of the squad adds his own skills in tracking and monitoring the illegal activities of bookies, thugs, and bosses.

Much of the book focuses on the squad’s relentless dogging of Mickey Cohen, the Los Angeles equivalent of Al Capone. While everyone knew Mickey was at the root of all the gang activity, it seemed impossible to prove. So the gangster squad was forced to be more inventive, blazing the path for future generations of gang busters in the FBI and local law enforcement. In one particularly memorable scene, they pose as TV repairmen after Cohen puts out a service call. After fixing the TV (one of their bugs was causing the interference), and planting another bug, Cohen tips them 100$. They pledge to be back every week to check on the issue. Cohen thinks he’s getting preferential treatment and the squad can replace the batteries on the bugs every week without hassle.

While occasionally a bit dry, this is a fantastic look into the LAPD in the 40’s and 50’s. The men who forged the squad and fought organized crime in their city blazed a path for generations of police to come. Lieberman crafts a fantastic work that is equal parts action and procedure painting a true portrait of the events of the day, rather than an aggrandized account of the war on the mafia. This is definitely one not to miss for anyone looking for a peek behind the curtain of the city that created Chandler’s books.

-Bryan Vanmeter