Tor Books/Pan Macmillan. This edition published Jan
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
AMERICAN GANGSTER the book is based on the screenplay of the movie of the
same name. The movie was inspired by an article published in New York
magazine, Return of the Superfly, about 70's Harlem drug
distributor Frank Lucas. Lucas gained infamy for cutting out the middleman
and importing the drugs himself.
Richie Roberts was the investigator who was largely credited with bringing
down Lucas' empire at a time when corruption was rife within the police
and legal justice system.
You'd think with such a pedigree, the book would be a fascinating insight
into the characters and the lives they lived that the movie didn't cover.
Sadly, the author has adhered solely to the screenplay and deals only with
the broad brushstrokes of events. The chapters alternate between the lives
of Frank and Richie chronicling Frank's rise in the drug world, Richie's
discovery of his existence and subsequent investigation and arrest.
Richie seems to be little more than a cliché. He is the one honest cop in
his precinct, studying law at night school and going through a divorce and
custody battle for his son. Frank does have a few more shades of grey. He
is ruthless and thinks nothing of killing off his rivals but he is
fiercely loyal to his family and loved ones. Oddly enough, these two main
characters don't actually meet until the last chapters in the book. While
AMERICAN GANGSTER is entertaining enough to read, it lacks any depth and
could have been so much more than it was given the potentially fascinating
Ironically in real life Richie became a defense lawyer and the first
person he defended was Frank Lucas. The two became friends and remain so
to this day.
January 2008 review originally published in Murder and Mayhem
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