Monday, December 30, 2013

Read: "Legs" by William Kennedy

Read: Legs by William Kennedy, 1975, 0140064842 (1983 paperback).

Kennedy wrote a series of Albany, NY based novels including this and Ironweed.  I suppose the series is still well known to some.  I heard of this novel in a roundabout way.  Jack "Legs" Diamond was incredibly famous as a NY gangster from the late twenties until his murder in 1931.  Several gangster movies have included Diamond as a character - with one or two featuring Diamond in the lead - but I was clueless about the guy.

I heard about Diamond through the Armed Robbery blog.  The blog owner ran a post on the anniversary of Diamond's murder including a photo of the building in Albany where he died.  The post mentioned the building is owned by Kennedy.  I wondered about that comment.  The reference seemed superfluous, so I looked Kennedy up.  I found out Kennedy wrote a novel about Legs.  I checked the catalog, Racine PL owns this copy, the book came over, I read it.  I mostly liked it.

Told from the perspective of Diamond's Albany-based attorney, Marcus Gormen.  Marcus meets Legs in 1925 when Legs is in town after a liquor run from Canada.  Legs sends Marcus a gift of scotch and asks for help with a CCW license.  Marcus is doing well as a lawyer and, amused by Legs, arranges the license.

A year of so later Diamond is expanding his operation up from New York City into the Catskills.  He recruits Marcus to be on retainer.  Diamond is a killer and a crook but Marcus is not much better.  Several times through the novel Diamond says Marcus is a better crook than Diamond himself.  Marcus takes on the work and on occasion is more accomplice than counsel.

Diamond's story is told through a few flashbacks, stories related from Diamond's cronies through Marcus, and Marcus's own observations.  Diamond is a charmer.  Has been a crook since he was a kid in Philadelphia.  He feuded with Dutch Schultz and other gangsters.  He was in the newspaper almost every day.  He was attacked and shot up about three times.  He was laid low by a prosecution for kidnapping that froze his finances and interfered with his work.  He shot to death in the early morning of Dec 18, 1931 in a rooming house in Albany.

1.  I liked the story but started to burn out in the half-way point.  Kennedy makes a nice tale but things just seemed to be going nowhere.  You hear about Legs's men extorting and threatening bar owners to take Legs's beer and booze.  How Legs has people killed.  How people disappear.  So on. So forth. My interest was petering out.  Especially since all the grit and crime was mostly told second hand or relayed as something that maybe happened.
2.  All the details of Diamond were well known at the time because of press coverage - except for journalistic embellishment or lies.  Legs was still spoken in Albany about 44 years later.  Kennedy focuses as much on Diamond's love triangle of his wife and showgirl mistress.  Kiki the mistress is described by Marcus as oozing with sex.  Kiki often talks about Legs and his sexual prowess.  That his prowess loyally attaches women to him.  Neither Diamond's wife or Kiki want to leave him; they overlook or ignore his ruthless and violent actions.
3.  I have a recent biography, Legs Diamond: Gangster by Patrick Downey, on hold.  I was tempted to look up events and locations from Kennedy's book but did not want to bother if the bio ever comes in for me.  (Racine PL is sometimes real slow to pull holds.)
4.  Kiki's sexuality does not come through in a film clip Downey embedded.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Read this one long ago. Still have the paperback somewhere. I remember thinking it was a little tedious, but that's about all.