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And All the Saints
Theres a reason New Yorks "Hells
Kitchen" was called by that name, andto a large degreethat reason is Owen
(called "Owney" by his mother and his friends) Madden. Born in Ireland in the
late 19th Century, Madden emigrated to the United States with his mother and
siblings when he was under ten years old, and became, arguably, the most feared New York
Irish crime figure of the 20th Century.
Michael Walshs And All the Saints is a fictionalized "autobiography" of Maddens rise to influence and power during the Prohibition era of American history. Walshthe author of six other bookswas, for 16 years, the music critic of Time Magazine and now writes opinion pieces for "DuckSEASON," an internet magazine. And All the Saints is his first historical novel.
The story begins with Owen Madden at age ten, informing his mother, who had hoped he would grow up to be a priest, that he was, instead, choosing "gangster" (in the form of the gang called "Gophers") as a career:
Then it was my turn. I dont know why it was always my turn last, except that I suppose Ma knew I was smarter than my brother and that when I set my cap for something, I generally did it. I knew that Ma was hoping Id shoot high, all the way for priest, because the job was steady and the pay was regular. But Id somethin else in mind, something better than priest. Something that would combine the toughness of a fighter, like my Da had been, with the cannon-enhanced authority of the cop and suasion of the padre, although morality had nothing to do with it.
"And you, Owen," she said. "What might you be after becomin?"
I didnt have to think either long or hard. "A Gopher," says I, ducking.
Young gangster Madden immediately comes under the influence and
protection of Monk Eastman, a Jewish gang leader, commits his first murder while in his
teens and grows into notoriety in his twenties. Prohibition provides an opportunity for
Madden to increase his territory and wealth, and as a result of his bootlegging
activities, he founds the Cotton Clubthe swankiest nightclub of its kind in New
York. Interested in theater and music, Madden gives Duke Ellington his start at the Club,
produces Broadway shows for Mae West, and helps his childhood friend, George Raft, get a
start in the movies. One of the princes of the gangland in the 30s and 40s, he ends up in
retirement in Hot Springs, Arkansas, telling the story from the point of view of a
73-year-old man anticipating death.
And All the Saints is as tough a book as its narrator was a gangster. Its a genre book--a true-crime "mans man" book. Much of the writing is graceful, the plot line is quick and eventful, and the well-researched period detail excellent, but the tough-guy patois that propels the book is, at times, awkward and tedious to follow..
- Eva Hunter