A fictionalized narrative of the erratic, stylish life and deadly career of notorious twenties gangster Legs Diamond, told with equivocal disbelief by his attorney, Marcus Gorman.
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Telling Diamond's story is Marcus Gorman, a lawyer who gets swept up in the excitement which surrounds Diamond and ends up as his attorney. Marcus, however, always insists that he be paid for his work, up front, and he refuses to be drawn into obviously illegal behavior. This makes him the perfect narrator-someone who admires much about Diamond but also someone whose judgment the reader can trust. Terse dialogue reminiscent of the novels of Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett, fills the novel, but Marcus's musings about what motivates Diamond offer a more thoughtful approach to this shady character and his life than what one usually finds in noir novels.
A man with no conscience, Diamond double-crosses and cheats his way to success, often killing his own associates, events described in gory detail. But Diamond's legend grows. Kennedy humanizes him by emphasizing the loyalty of his wife Alice and the crazy love of his girlfriend, showgirl Kiki Roberts.... Read more ›
What I liked about this novel was although William Kennedy attempted to humanize Jack Diamond to a certain extent, Kennedy did not sentimentalize or apologize for him. I had no doubt that Jack Diamond was exactly what he was: a booklegger, a thief, and a murderer. Despite numerous arrests, Jack Diamond was "The Teflon" gangster--none of the state charges against him would stick. Jack was a true media celebrity, in the same sense that the popular, but corrupt New York Mayor, Jimmy Walker, was at the time, although Jack was often unkind to reporters and photographers. Jack had loads of fans, who were mostly "the common man" who probably identified with Jack's humble beginnings. He also had many detractors, some of whom wanted to kill him. Jack also had a loving wife, Alice, and an adoring mistress, Marion "Kiki" Roberts, a dance hall girl. Jack loved them both in his own fashion. In a particularly trying time towards the end of his short life, Jack sought comfort from both women by keeping them near him, in separate rooms, on the same floor in a hotel in which he was staying at the time. His body guards were in another room. It seems that the only person Jack ever truly loved was his brother, Eddie, who died many years before of tuberculosis. Just mentioning Eddie would cause Jack's eyes to well-up with tears. But any doubts of Jack Diamond being a vicious and sadistic criminal were completely dispelled in his kidnapping, torture, and near-hanging of an old man (accompanied by his young companion) who Jack erroneously believed was a rival bootlegger. It was this event (brutally described in the book and not for the squeamish) that caused Jack to be brought to trial, which included federal charges and unwanted media attention.
William Kennedy wrote _Legs_ in a light, informal style that also never let up on the intensity. I found reading the book fun, but with a constant, lingering sense of dread and doom that never left me. The fact remains that Legs Diamonds lived the last months of his life in constant fear of assasination and in spite of his greed for money, he died impoverished.
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