Sunday, February 23, 2020

Book Report: "Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York"

Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925 by William Balsamo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Balsamo takes dime novel-style liberties as he spins a painterly tale of Al Capone rising up the ranks of the New York mob scene. Gathering historical records, newspaper articles and biographies, he infuses his ear for the way tough-talking thugs thought and acted in the early 20th century.

The poetic license Balsamo takes in "Young Al Capone" helps the figures come to life as characters. He imagines the small talk, inner thoughts and negotiations that went on among the gangsters to tell a story that borders on historical fiction.

The approach is a blinding success for the most part, only occasionally backfiring into mawkish silliness. What emerges is the tale of a troubled, tremendously driven boy who was determined not to live a life of working poverty like his father and brothers. Delving into the underworld with gusto, Capone had a knack for sizing up potential allies and rivals, and ruthlessly dealing with both, ever-arranging everyone around him like pawns on a chess board.

"Young Al Capone" changed my perspective on the underworld king. Although his mind was addled by alcohol and illness in later life, sticking him with the reputation of a doltish, ham-fisted thug, this book shows how smart and clever he was to ascend to the dizzying heights to which he ascended before his talents left him and he devolved into a caricature.

The Audible version, narrated with gusto and admirable acting chops by Daniel May, breathes gangster film-style life into the films. May shifts his accents ably between Italian and Irish accents, giving Capone a distinctly understated voice that reflects his calculating confidence and simmering rage simmering beneath a collected facade.

Rapidly paced and elegantly told, "Young Al Capone" is a gem of a find for those who can't get enough true crime and mob history. It would shine as a TV miniseries, no doubt rising to dominance with the hurried force of Capone himself.

Publisher provided review copy.

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