Max Allan Collins






Tor Books/Pan Macmillan. This edition published Jan 2008
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 subject matter.

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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