From Cuba to Hollywood

51pwo4g6zuL._SS500_The penetration of American organized crime into the gambling and entertainment industries in Cuba has been well documented. The actual process of this takeover is quite interesting, involving political corruption, mob culture, and the interaction of Cuban ruling elites and revolutionary figures. English, who teaches a course on organized crime at the New College of California, places Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano at the center of his narrative. As portrayed by English, these boyhood friends combine brutality, cynicism, and an expansive vision of creating a criminal empire with a protected base in Cuba. English writes eloquently about prerevolutionary Havana, where the glitter of nightlife and an “anything goes” facade covered up the widespread poverty and decadent political culture under Batista. As long as English sticks to organized crime he remains on solid ground. Unfortunately, when he ventures into the political realm, he oversimplifies, displaying an appalling ignorance of the complexities of the various groups opposed to Batista. Still, this is a valuable examination of organized-crime figures and their efforts to thrive in a seemingly receptive environment. --Jay Freeman

The California RollMaster of the snuke and its bafflegab and the scourge of every mook, con artist Radar Hoverlander wonders if he’s met his match in Allie Quinn. She’s dazzling and highly intelligent and seems to be setting him up for a con. She also leads a brittle, beautiful Australian cop and a bent FBI agent to him, and everyone but Radar has multiple agendas. Radar simply wants to avoid prison or being killed and to work toward the grand snuke, the California Roll, the last payday he’ll ever need. The California Roll is grand entertainment. Radar, Allie, the law-enforcement odd couple, and hapless grifter Vic Mirplo are all cleverly developed. Double and triple crosses abound in the careening plot, and Vorhaus, who writes primarily about poker, really seems to understand the bedrock mendacity of the grift. It’s in the blood, like peanut allergy, he writes. The writing is tight and wonderfully glib, and Vorhaus slyly, shrewdly hints that he’s snuking the reader. No caper-novel fan should miss this one. --Thomas Gaughan      

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