Saturday, 14 June 2014

Lad Lit Book Reviews: Casino: Love & Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi

Books For Men Book Reviews: Casino: Love & Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi
Anyone who has seen the Martin Scorsese film Casino will clearly remember the scene where Joe Pesci’s character pops the guys eye out of its socket whilst squeezing his head in a vice. It’s fair to say it’s wasn't a pretty sight (pardon the pun), but if you are a die-hard mob movie fan then it’s a scene that is right up there with a horse’s head in a bed or asking if I’m funny like a clown.

Well if you were a fan of the film (or even better, if you haven’t seen the film yet), then make sure you check out this book! Brought to us by Nicholas Pileggi, the same author who penned Wiseguy which was the inspiration for Goodfellas, this is the story of Love and Honor in Las Vegas.

Pileggi focuses in on two prominent mob figures who went to Las Vegas in the 1970s with the instructions from the Chicago Outfit to run the gambling capital of the world with a combination of brains and brawn. Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who  was one of Chicago’s top sports handicappers, was sent by mob bosses to run the casinos and skim millions of dollars from the profits to line their pockets in the process, while Tony “The Ant” Spilotro was the street thug and mafia hitman sent in to take care of any unsavoury business!

What follows is a story full of lust, greed, violence and more violence as Pilleggi delivers a knock-out blow-by-blow account of what Vegas was like during the mob’s heyday stranglehold of sin city; but perhaps most importantly of all it tells of the fall of the mafia’s grip on Las Vegas. A lot of the story is told through the words of Rosenthal and his own downfall, which starts to unravel when he falls into legal problems over his lack of a gaming licence due to his criminal record, his Showgirl wife’s addiction to everything that is wrong in her life, and last but not least the increasingly erratic and violent behaviour of Spilitro. 

It also flags up just how much of a crazy town Vegas was during that period. For example, Rosenthal’s answer to not being given a gaming licence was to star in his own TV chat show to combat those who had rejected his application. Read that again. That's right – he decided to host his own TV chat show because someone told him no! It’s basically the same as not being successful in a job interview so you decide to go onto Jeremy Kyle to air your grievances!

And things don’t get any better for poor Frank as his showgirl wife, Geri, spirals out of control on drink and drugs and then does the one thing that would be bloody hard for any lad to deal with – she shacks up with the local hitman and has an affair with Spilotro, who by now is playing by his own rules and is heading up the notorious Hole in the Wall gang who would break into places by, well, smashing a hole through the wall!

Evil doesn’t even do the word justice in trying to explain the type of man Spilitro was, but even for all his crimes you still can’t quite believe the shocking and gruesome demise he is met with, which probably says as much about dispelling the so-called romance around the mafia created by stories such as The Godfather that I was still unable comprehend the awful way in which these gangsters deal with their own.

My only criticism of the book – and it has to be said that it is a minor criticism – is that it doesn’t read as smoothly at times as Wiseguy did. Pileggi has done his research, no doubt about it, but there were times when trying to keep up with the narrative that had been pieced together by old interviews or FBI files wasn’t easy to follow.

But all in all, if you like your gangster stories, then you will like Casino. It harks back to an age where Vegas was not the adult theme park it has become today. "Today in Las Vegas, the men in fedoras who built the city are gone," Pileggi concludes, and whilst that is true, it still remains that one of the wealthiest cities in the world was built on the blood money by American gangsters.

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