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Gangster Squad a real eye-opener
* This article contains a spoiler
Every city has its own crime problems. Many of those problems are recognisable regardless of the place. Change the names of people and places and you can get a remarkably similar crime story just about anywhere. That’s one of the lessons readers will find in Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles by Paul Lieberman, our current Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book club choice.
Filled with fast-paced action, startling descriptions, flamboyant characters and an underworld that ordinary citizens never see, Gangster Squad dissects the criminal mind so that readers can get a better understanding of those who operate in the criminal world. The Gangster Squad had some real characters to deal with: mobsters like Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen or gangs like the Zoot Suit crew, Mexican-Americans who stood out from the other ethnic gangs fighting for territory in Los Angeles.
If you’re wondering how the police officers in the Gangster Squad survived for so long, the answer is:
1 The street was their office.
2 Everyone in government or the police service pretended not to know about them.
3 They got “a sanitised new name” once those opposed to the covert operation cranked up the heat.
4 They got an indirect boost from a popular crime programme, Dragnet.
When Jack Webb got the Los Angeles Police department to back his new crime programme on television, Webb turned crime into a form of entertainment that made members of the Gangster Squad folk heroes. Without giving away how long the Gangster Squad as a police unit did survive, it is worth noting that the officers “… were part of a generation that was supposed to remake the LAPD. But none of the others had been given the chore that had been an obsession in Los Angles for a century, of protecting this paradise from the evil outsiders of the underworld. Every decade or so, another shadowy unit was formed to take on the job that promised to make you a hero only to leave even the most celebrated foot soldiers tarnished in the end.”
Spoiler alert: Jack O’Mara survived his days in the Gangster Squad and even shrugged off what most people would think was a lack of respect for his contributions towards fighting crime. He retired from the police department and immediately took up a job as head of security at two Los Angeles racetracks. There, he watched for criminals and illegal activities, but one of his main duties was carrying dignitaries to see the stables’ most famous resident: TV’s talking horse Mr Ed.
Gangster Squad ends with Lieberman talking about the making of the movie which actually began with a phone call from O’Mara over 20 years ago. If you ever wondered how actors portray real people or why they change facts in a movie, then you’ll enjoy this chapter. When it comes to non-fiction books, Gangster Squad is a real eye opener.
Next week: In honour of Trinidad writer Rabindranath Maharaj, our next SAS Book Club choice will be The Amazing Absorbing Boy.
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