Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Satan's Circus

I woke up in pain and felt exhausted this morning, but I needed to go into work, so I prayed for strength and deliverance. I dropped Mia and Molly off a the park. The sky was overcast, and Molly asked if it was going to rain. I foolishly quoted the weatherman from this morning who said that it was going to blow over without bring us any rain. I got to work and refilled some brochures in the waiting rooms. Just as I was going back downstairs to start working on the computer, I saw that it was raining. No, raining doesn't quite cover it: it was POURING in sheets. I jotted a note to my boss that I had to get my girls and clocked out 23 minutes after I had punched in. Running the 50 feet to the van got me completely soaked head to toe. I head to run through puddles that were up to my ankles. I drove to the park and found it empty, so I called Molly on her cell. My very intelligent daughter had gone to her dad's office at the first sound of thunder and took Mia with her. So my deliverance from the day came in the form of a rainstorm.

The interesting news (explaining the picture above), is that Voldemort's name is Bob, and he bags groceries at Piggly Wiggly. I was checking out at the grocery store when Molly whispered in my ear "Isn't that him??" I looked at the bag boy, and sure enough, he had been dressed as Voldemort at the Barnes & Noble book release party. I asked him to confirm his identity, and we talked a bit about the bit of notoriety he's gained for the costume. We chatted all to the van about the new book and the movie. When I got in the car, I realized that I had been channeling my mother. It is such a Mom thing to start up a conversation with a bag boy, find common ground and talk forever. I'm only 33, and I'm already turning into my mother!

Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century by Mike Dash is the story of Charley Becker, the only police officer in the history of New York to be executed for murder. I love books like this that take place around the turn of the 20th century featuring what newspapers called "the trial of the century". Crime seems less frightening when it's removed by 100 years or so. Dash builds his case well: he tells the story of Becker's life as well as many gangsters and politicians who will eventually effect the case. Satan's Circus was an area around Broadway in New York City that was filled with brothels and gambling dens. Police officers took graft (bribes) from these places so that they could continue to operate. The graft went all the way up to the district attorney and mayor on occasion and recipients ended up with amounts in the millions. Becker himself took in what would be $500,000 in today's money while he was working on a task force to stamp out graft. He crossed a small time gambler named Herman Rosenthal who determined to get revenge on Becker and the rest of Satan's Circus by spilling the beans on all the cozy arrangements to a new district attorney, Charles Whitman, who was trying to make a name for himself. Quickly Rosenthal ends up dead, Whitman decides that Becker did it and pushes the suspects in custody until they come up with a story that Whitman likes: Becker hired Bald Jack Rose to get some gunmen and take Rosenthal out. Becker's first trial was a farce that was thrown out by the appeals court. The second trial was better but despite the weak evidence, the jury found Becker guilty of first degree murder, and he was sentenced to death in the electric chair. Dash makes a good case for Becker's innocence (at least of murder, his guilt for graft is unquestioned). Dash does a terrific job of creating scene, establishing characters and building a story out of history. It's a fascinating read on the way politics in old New York worked through Tammany Hall and the power that gangsters held.

If you notice on the right side, I've joined Shelfari. It's a website devoted to getting people talking about books. The books on my list are the ones I intend to read next. If you are interested in joining up, add me as a friend!