American Gangster

American Gangster

by Max Allan Collins

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American Gangster by Max Allan Collins

The novelization of the major motion picture from Universal Pictures about Frank Lucas, drug czar of Harlem. The film stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and is directed by Ridley Scott.

For decades the Mafia controlled the flow of heroin onto the streets of Harlem. Frank Lucas changed all that. Born in rural North Carolina, he came to New York and rose to power under notorious mobster Bumpy Johnson. When Bumpy died, Frank moved to take over the drug business. Caught in a squeeze play between the Mafia and the street dealers, Frank got creative. Instead of being a tool of the mob, he went straight to the source—Cambodia—and set up his own unique distribution system.

Using his brothers as his lieutenants and selling "quality" heroin in trademark blue plastic bags, Frank Lucas and his "Country Boys" became the kings of One Hundred Twenty-Fifth Street. Frank had it made. He was rich, successful, and untouchable. . . .

. . . until Richie Roberts came along. Roberts, the Eliot Ness of drug enforcement, became a pariah among other detectives in the NYPD when he turned in the million dollars in cash he found in the trunk of a dealer's car. His personal life was a mess—his wife left him, and his son hardly knew him anymore—but on the job, Roberts was all business, and his business, heading up a Federal Narcotics Squad, was busting big-time dealers. His next target? Frank Lucas.

This violent, action-filled chronicle of a uniquely American based on Ridley Scott's film, itself based on a New York magazine profile, "The Return of Superfly" by Mark Jacobson.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429969512
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 10/02/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 736,420
File size: 326 KB

About the Author

Max Allan Collins has been chosen as the 2017 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). He is the New York Times bestselling author of the graphic novel The Road to Perdition on which the film was based, has written dozens of novels, including his Nate Heller detective series. Collins wrote also has written the graphic-novel sequel, The Road to Paradise. For some years he wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip. An independent filmmaker, Collins lives in Eastern Iowa.
MAX ALLAN COLLINS has been chosen as the 2017 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). He is the bestselling author of the graphic novel Road to Perdition, the basis for the hit film starring Tom Hanks. He has won two Shamus Awards, for True Detective and Stolen Away, both from his series of Nathan Heller novels. A prolific writer, Collins' other works include mystery novels, screenplays, comic books, film novelizations, and historical fiction.

Read an Excerpt


Tru Blue

Two days before Thanksgiving 1970, Frank Lucas had things to do for Bumpy Johnson. As usual.

On that cold sunny afternoon, Frank's first stop was a funky little jazz club, one of those basement joints where cigarette smoke and spilled-liquor smell passed for atmosphere, and volume from the combo on the postage-stamp stage stood in for talent.

The bartender who glanced up warily from polishing glasses knew that Frank's businesslike, businessman demeanor was deceiving. With his tailored charcoal suit and crisply knotted tie, Frank was as tall and handsome and confident as Sidney Poitier, if not as dark. He had left his topcoat in the waiting Lincoln Town Car, desiring freedom of movement.

Without seeming to rush, Frank strode to a back booth where four black dudes with terrible taste in attire looked up with lidded eyes and sneering expressions, unhappy to be interrupted in their private talk of business that they no doubt felt was none of Frank's, or his boss Bumpy's.

They were wrong, and Frank told them so, or tried, as the din of music made it hard for them to get his words. The men leaned forward to hear better and Frank took a revolver from his pocket and shot them in their respective heads.

This they heard.

And Frank was gone before anyone had time to scream.

His next stop was 116th Street where he oversaw Bumpy's annual Thanksgiving turkey toss. Frank, like everybody in Harlem, thought of his boss as "Bumpy," though Frank (even as close as the two men were) always paid him the respect of "Mr. Johnson" when they spoke.

Bumpy would stand up there in the flatbed truck, a benign king dispensing freshly butchered turkeys like benedictions, and poor folk in their tattered clothes would crowd around and grin up at him gratefully and an elegantly attired Bumpy would grin right back.

Frank had no idea how old Bumpy Johnson was, though everybody knew he'd been around forever, the Robin Hood of Harlem who stood up to Dutch Schultz himself back in Prohibition days. So, hell, by any yardstick the old boy was elderly, and yet up there pitching turkeys to the crowd, he looked sturdy as Woody Strode.

And as rich as God, in that cashmere topcoat and silk scarf and those leather gloves, his head of Brillogray hair bare. As far as Frank was concerned, this man was God; Jesus Christ Himself never saved anybody better than Bumpy had Frank.

Frank had come up from North Carolina already a career criminal, and started indiscriminately ripping off everything and everybody from jewelry stores to crap games. Some of those crap games had included Harlem gangsters and, Frank now knew, such recklessness would have caught up with him ... if Bumpy Johnson hadn't caught up with him first.

Frank had been hustling at Lump's Pool Room on 134th Street, taking chumps for eight ball. A tall duded-up motherfucker called Icepick took the bait, displaying a choke-a-horse roll of bills. And Frank — having no idea this was a stone killer who freelanced to the Mafia — decided that Icepick's roll was going to be his, whether at the pool table or with a gun in an alley.

Icepick wanted to shoot a thousand-dollar game of pool, but Frank only had a hundred dollars, which prompted Icepick to wonder aloud what kind of goddamn punk goes around with nothin' but a lousy C-note on his skinny ass.

Frank was seconds away from saying he really did have a thousand after all, ready to reach for his piece when a Bourbon-smooth voice from behind asked him: "Son, can you beat this boy?"

Frank turned and saw a black man the likes of which he'd never seen: close to six foot, dark-complected, in a gray suit sharper than a serpent's tooth and a maroon tie and camel's-hair overcoat with a flower in the lapel, a Homburg perched jauntily on a big noggin. Looked like he walked out of an ad in Esquire.

"I can shoot pool with anybody on the planet, mister."

"Then how about I back you. Fifty-fifty split?" "Cool."

Suddenly Icepick was as twitchy as a flea on a skillet. "Bumpy, man — you know I don't never bet 'gainst you."

But this Bumpy character paid Icepick no heed, just thundered, "Rack 'em up!" As Bumpy watched silently, the two players rolled for the break, Frank took it, and crushed the dude. Icepick never got off a damn shot. Took his beating, paid up and slunk off.

Afterward, Bumpy told Frank to come along with him, and Frank didn't argue. Soon they were in a chauffeured Caddy, and Bumpy directed them straight to the best men's clothing store on Lenox Avenue, where the benefactor picked out for his new charge the nicest suits, slacks, ties, you name it.

For six months, Frank slept in the front room of Bumpy's place. And everybody in Harlem, including men he'd robbed, from the jeweler to various hoodlums, started paying seventeen-year-old Frank Lucas respect.

Why Bumpy had taken Frank under his wing like that Frank never knew and sure as hell never asked; but the older man must have seen potential in the kid from North Carolina. Bumpy personally showed Frank the ropes, from figuring the vig to doing the collections. And everybody in Harlem paid Bumpy Johnson. The protection racket was the foundation of Bumpy's business.

Now, twenty years later, Frank was still at Bumpy's side — his driver and bodyguard and collector and protégé. The turkeys tossed, the two men — with Bumpy leading his loyal German shepherd on its leash — were walking toward the Wells Restaurant when the nattily attired older gangster paused and pointed. His leathergloved finger indicated a vast wall of TVs playing in the expanse that was the window of the latest of these discount emporiums popping up everywhere, like plastic-and-metal mushrooms.

"This is the problem," Bumpy said.

Frank wasn't sure what his boss meant — did he mean the Vietnam War? The image playing on all of the screens showed soldiers in the jungles of that distant land. You could hear the whisper of gunfire through the glass.

"This," Bumpy said, shaking his head woefully, "is what's wrong with America."

Frank nodded, still not sure he was getting it. Politics wasn't something either of them talked much.

"It's gotten so big," the sonorous voice was intoning, "you can't find your way."

Then Bumpy led both his watchdogs on, human and canine, a Red Sea of pedestrians parting — whether out of respect or fear, what did it matter? — and the two men approached the entrance to the big discount store.

Again Bumpy paused.

"Where's the corner grocery? It's a supermarket now. What happened to that funky old candy store? McDonald's is squatting on its ruins. And this place...."

Bumpy indicated the yawning chasm of a store with its endless aisles and towering stacks of merchandise. A few customers wandered within, as if lost in an overseas airport, with no sales clerks to guide them.

"Where's the pride of ownership, a warehouse like this?" Bumpy demanded. "Where's people waiting on people? Does anybody work here?"

Frank did not know the term "rhetorical question," but he knew one when he heard one, and didn't reply. They were walking again, slowly, and now Bumpy was indicating a display window filled with Japanese stereo components.

"What right do they have, cutting out the suppliers, pushing all the middlemen out, buying direct from the manufacturer? Sony this, Toshiba that, all them slanteyed sons of bitches putting Americans out of work! We fought a war for that?"

Bumpy stopped again, TVs replaced by cameras. His eyes widened, his nostrils flared.

"What's an honest businessman like me supposed to do with a goddamn place like this, Frank?"

Now Frank wasn't sure — maybe he was supposed to answer....

Bumpy shook his head in sheer frustration. "Who the hell am I supposed to ask for — the assistant manager? How do you collect from a goddamn octopus that won't show you his fuckin' head?"

Frank nodded. The protection racket was definitely going out of style, though he had never expressed this opinion out loud.

Bumpy stared back at the window of cameras. Again he pointed.

"That's the problem, Frank. Eyes looking at you, but no faces. That's the way it is, now: you can't even find a heart to stick the knife in."

Bumpy was still returning the cameras' stare when his jaw went slack and his expression turned fearful.

Which shocked Frank, who did not shock easily. Thing was, in all these years, Frank Lucas had never seen Bumpy Johnson look afraid.

Now, astonishingly, the big man dropped to his knees, as if praying to this church of consumerism. Both Frank and the German shepherd stared down at their master in disbelief.

Then Frank was on his knees, too, asking, "What is it, Mr. Johnson? Bumpy!"

Hand splayed on the breast of the cashmere topcoat, Bumpy looked at Frank but remained slack-jawed, no words coming out, though the eyes pleaded.

Frank heard a voice yelling, "Somebody call an ambulance!"

It was his own voice.

He scrambled to the entrance of the cavernous discount store and yelled those words again, but the place seemed empty, the echo of his cry for help having a hollow ring, blending in with Muzak and cash registers ringing up sales that Bumpy would never see his piece of.

Frank threw a desperate glance at Bumpy, whose tear-filled eyes were on him.

And finally Bumpy managed to speak: "Forget it, Frank. Nobody's in charge."

As usual, Bumpy was right, even with his last words.

* * *

On the day of Bumpy's funeral, the media was waiting outside the Lenox Terrace apartment house, recording the parade of limousines and the mourners who emerged from them, family and friends, of course, but also celebrities and politicians. This enormous crowd, mostly Harlemites, called for cops on horseback to maintain order; for a protection racketeer, Bumpy was beloved.

And in certain unmarked cars, FBI agents snapped pictures with their long-lensed cameras, their focus on the Italian gangsters coming to pay their respects, capo Dominic Cattano in particular. The black criminals were beneath their interest, though when Nicky Barnes in his tinted Gucci glasses stepped from his white Bentley, to pose happily for anybody with a camera, the feds felt obligated to snap a few of this attentioncraving drug dealer.

The live coverage played on a television in the Johnson apartment, though no one was really watching.

"The passing of Ellsworth 'Bumpy' Johnson has brought together a who's who of mourners on this chilly afternoon. The Governor has come down. The Mayor of New York and the Chief of Police and Commissioner join sports and entertainment luminaries ..."

In a corner of Bumpy Johnson's well-appointed garden apartment, Frank Lucas was sitting on a couch, half-listening to this March of Time obituary. Nearby but not right next to where Frank sat, Bumpy's loyal German shepherd perched, watching all these intruders as suspiciously as Frank.

"According to the eulogies," a male reporter down among the crowd below was saying, "Bumpy Johnson was a great man, a giving man, a man of the people. But no one chose to include in their remembrances the word most often associated with Johnson: gangster."

Frank rose, went to the TV, switched it off and returned to his couch. This had been his boss's private sanctuary, with its carved-ivory chess table and bookcase of leather-bound Shakespeare and a stereo console with a record collection running from classical music to Henry Mancini, no jazz or R & B at all. Frank was among the few to regularly hang out here with the boss.

Now the sanctuary had been invaded, on the pretense of respect. Among the vultures were the self-styled Superfly Nicky Barnes with his ever-present crew of ass-kissers, and that thug Tango Black, a big bald-headed bastard known to be quick for a man his size. Right now Tango was quick to scavenge food and booze at this catered wake.

Vulgar men in vulgar clothes, Frank thought. Ironic that the two Cosa Nostra types at the wet bar — elegant, hawkishly handsome Cattano, who Bumpy did business with, and his accountant-like minion, Rossi — were among the most truly respectful mourners here. While Tango and Nicky Barnes sloshed down the booze, Cattano sipped white wine. Class.

Taking the liberty of plopping himself down next to Frank was an anonymously respectable-looking white guy in a dark suit suitable for a mortician or banker. He was in fact the latter, with Chemical Bank in the Bronx.

"How you doing, Frank?"

"All right."

"Terrible loss."

Frank nodded.

The banker risked a small smile. "How are you ... otherwise? Things okay financially?"

The banker was obviously wondering whether Frank had been appointed by Bumpy as his successor. But he didn't reply: this was neither the time nor the place. The banker's lack of tact, however, didn't irritate him as much as seeing that waste of skin Tango Black plonk a watery glass filled with melting ice on the edge of Bumpy's antique inlaid chess table.

The banker was pressing on: "Did Bumpy set anything up for you?"

"Excuse me."

Frank got up and crossed to the chess table and picked up the glass and set it on a coaster.

Tango, noticing this, grinned at Frank and said, "Hey, while you're at it, Frank, I could use an ashtray."

Frank reached into his jacket. Tango frowned a little; so did the German shepherd, watching his master's friend ever closely. His revolver in its shoulder holster was revealed, but what Frank was going for was his handkerchief, which he used to dry the condensation Tango's spent drink glass had left.

Then, from a drawer of the chess table, Frank took an ashtray and held it out toward Tango.

The big man looked at Frank, at the ashtray and back at Frank; finally, unsure of whether this was a genuine response to his sarcastic comment or some kind of challenge, Tango wandered off to scavenge more free eats.

When Frank returned to the couch, the banker was gone, but Charlie Williams had taken his place. Charlie, an older player in the dope game, was an affable guy, stand-up all the way, and Bumpy had thought well of him.

Charlie had an almond-shaped face emphasized by a receding hairline and a mustache a shade lighter than his dark hair. "You going to be all right, Frank?"


"You don't like havin' all these people walkin' around in here, do you? Sniffin' around is more like it."

"No I don't."

Charlie patted Frank's shoulder. "Listen, knowing Bumpy, he prob'ly never told you, but he made me promise ... anything ever happened to him? I'd make sure you didn't go without."

Frank gave Charlie a smile, his first one today. "I'll be fine, Charlie." Then he turned away and stared into the mourners, making them a blur in his vision. "Half the people here owed Bumpy money. If they think I'm gonna forget to collect, they're dead wrong."

Charlie chuckled. Patted Frank's shoulder. "That's the spirit. Go get 'em, son."

Getting up with a nod and a smile, Charlie ambled off. Cattano's man Rossi, a mustached blocky character with shark's eyes, trundled over like a tank. His eyes asked Frank if it was okay to sit down. Frank's eyes said yes.

Rossi said, "Unseemly to do business here, Frank."


"But life goes on."

"It does."

"Thought you'd wanna know you can pick up the stuff at the club tomorrow."

"Morning okay?"

Rossi nodded. "Ten?"



Could Be Fatal

Richard "Richie" Roberts knew what fear was.

This afternoon, for example, he and his partner Javy Rivera were about to serve a subpoena on a low-level wise guy, Vinnie Campizi, and wise guys, of any level, were potentially dangerous. At this very moment, Richie was lugging a sledgehammer as he and Javy headed across a street busy enough to take some doing, but also the kind of thoroughfare where no driver paid any heed to a couple fullback-size jaywalkers in leather jackets and jeans, one of whom was hefting a sledgehammer.

The seedy hourly rate motel they were heading toward was close enough to the waterfront that you could see the jagged teeth of the Harlem skyline on the other side, just beyond the George Washington Bridge. This was the kind of fleabag where you got rolled and not just in the hay, where catching a dose of the clap was getting off easy. Bad things happened behind those closed doors, but none of it, after all these years on the force, added up to fear for Richie Roberts.

Fear for Richie Roberts was walking to the gallows that was a blackboard at the front of his night-school law class, a fluorescent-lit dungeon where he existed in cold-sweat dread of hearing his name called. "Fuck you, pig!" from a PCP-addled perp held nothing like the threat of hearing his professor say, "Mr. Roberts — give us U.S. vs. Meade ... subject, issues, what the determination was, and what it means to us today."

Fear for Richie was turning to face classmates, all of whom were at least a decade younger than him, every one of them knowing more than he did, and exposing the inadequacies of his thinking and self-expression.

Sledgehammer gripped in one hand, Richie — dark blond, boyish — was explaining to Javy: "They took surveys. It's scientific."


Excerpted from "American Gangster"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Universal Studios, LLLP.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Copyright Notice,
1. Tru Blue,
2. Could Be Fatal,
3. Taster's Choice,
4. Past Due,
5. Ding Dong,
6. Dick Down,
7. Payback,
8. OD,
9. Can't Get Enough of That Funky Stuff,
10. Kill Kill Kill,
11. Nice to Be Nice,
12. The Judge,
13. Mean Machine,
14. Cooley High,
15. Boody,
16. Capone,
17. Swear to God,
18. Praise Praise Praise,
19. Harlem Hijack,
20. Insured for Life,
21. Revenge,
22. Rush,
23. Red Tape,
24. Insured for Death,
25. Tragic Magic,
26. Official Correct,
27. Joint,
About the Author,

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American Gangster 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this up to read on a recent plane ride. Knowing the story is based on the real Frank Lucas made the entire story quite compelling. Because the book is based on the script and not the usual film adaptation from print, the back and forth between Frank and Richie gets a little tedious. I think the idea is to juxtapose the values and ambitions of the 2 characters, but it doesn't really work. Richie clearly comes across as the saint 'even though he has no family values'and Frank the sinner 'even though he loves his wife and mom'. But with Denzel Washington as the lead in the movie, it's hard to hate Frank. It would help the reader to know more about Frank's childhood to better understand his actions. Frank experienced some signifigant pain as a child growing up in the South when Jim Crow ruled. American Gangster is a very enjoyable read, though. I passed it along to my 24-year old son who hasn't read a book in years! I think it's a great book and an easy read for young adults.
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Target practice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book wass sooo good
Guest More than 1 year ago
its the bomb book must read!!!!!