Review by Booklist Review
New York City at the end of the nineteenth century experienced some of the worst outcomes of its phenomenal growth. The moneyed classes at the top of the social and political pyramid flaunted their wealth, and the poor, many of them newly arrived and struggling immigrants, lived in appalling conditions. But for both groups, crime was an ever-present threat. Policing in the city was spotty, unprofessional, basically undisciplined, and generally corrupt. But things began to change with the appearance of Thomas Byrnes, a proactive and intelligent detective. He had to rely on his own pluck and Sherlock Holmes-style intelligence since fingerprints and such were still a decade away. Gangs and organized crime threatened public safety. Out of all this urban chaos, Oller (White Shoe, 2019) crafts a narrative of how civic leaders' responses to this situation led to a new sort of police force, one that relied on photographs of suspected miscreants and on tough, even brutal, interrogations. For fans of true crime stories, Oller has assembled an abundance of colorful characters.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Oller (White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American Century) takes an epic and engrossing look at the history of New York City crime and law enforcement from the early 1870s to about 1910. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including state senate investigative hearings, Oller weaves an enthralling narrative that presents both the origins of the NYPD and of organized crime in the Big Apple. He examines the careers of pioneering police detectives Thomas Byrnes and Arthur Carey, whose efforts enabled the city's police investigators to be regarded as being on the same level as Scotland Yard. Oller also describes how Gilded Age gang members and thieves evolved to become "low-life mirror images of the more exalted robber barons, who cut corners to earn their untold riches." Oller also focuses on colorful lesser-knowns, like devoted mother and synagogue attendee Marm Mandelbaum, a prominent fence who expanded into "financing bank robberies." True crime fans will relish what is likely to be the definitive account of this seminal period for lawbreakers and law enforcers alike. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Sept.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
Former attorney Oller (White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business--and the American Century) explores the sordid criminal world of New York City's Gilded Age and the star detectives who solved some of U.S. history's most storied crimes. Part social history, part true crime, this book largely focuses on legendary detective Thomas F. Byrnes, who helped develop now-widespread police procedures. (Byrnes didn't come up with "the third degree," but he pioneered the use of the interrogation technique, Oller writes.) Oller covers crimes that Byrnes was instrumental in solving, such as the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Institution. He also discusses Byrnes's successors in the New York Police Department in the early 20th century, including Art Carey and Max Schmittberger, who had their own host of cases to solve and people to apprehend, including Black Hand extortionists tied to the Italian mafia and members of rapidly expanding street gangs. The book is well written, with enough background detail to make the time period and its criminals understandable to the nonexpert. VERDICT Perfect for New York City history buffs or true crime readers, this is a well-rounded work that can fill a few spots.--Amelia Osterud, Milwaukee P.L., WI
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A popular historical study of the rise of metropolitan policing in late-19th-century New York City. One of the great benefits of living in America is that people can reinvent themselves pretty much at will. Take William Devery (1854-1919), a former police official who was "as shameless a political hack as could be found within the police force." Finally ousted from his job after a career that embarrassed even the excessively corrupt denizens of Tammany Hall, Devery took his graft-gotten gains and bought the baseball team that would become the New York Yankees. Just so, an Italian gangland leader gave up one branch of racketeering for another, changing his name and becoming a strong-arm union boss. So it is with many of the whirling cast of characters in Oller's book, which begins with an account of reform-minded cops during and after the Civil War who took on a stellar cast of murderers and miscreants, from the Five Points Irish gangs to a Staten Island dentist of homicidal bent. The author's account is careful and circumstantial, though it could have used some streamlining to wrestle it down to a more manageable length. But there are plenty of memorable episodes and players. One of the best of them is a former chief named Thomas Byrnes, a good man at the right time who was relieved of his duties by a police commissioner even more bent on reform: future president Theodore Roosevelt. For crime buffs, Oller delivers ample murder and mayhem as well as organizational notes for students of criminology, with commentary on such things as interrogation techniques and the reasons why homicide units are distributed among the boroughs rather than centralized. The author is also good on the evolution of organized crime in various ethnic enclaves, including the loose Black Hand and the more hierarchical Mafia in Little Italy and the Jewish and Irish gangs of the Lower East Side. Overlong but with some fine moments of cops-and-robbers and cops-and-politicos action throughout. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.