Talty (Black Irish) spins a gripping tale in this true crime account of one man’s crusade to combat organized crime in early-20th-century New York City. His hero is Joseph Petrosino, one of the first Italian-Americans hired by the New York Police Department, who ultimately sacrificed his life in an effort to defeat the Black Hand, an Italian organized crime group that terrorized the city through its kidnappings of children, extortions, and murders. Talty anchors the arc of Petrosino’s career in 1883, when the man who became known as the Italian Sherlock Holmes was just 23 years old. His diligence and extraordinary memory led to a rapid ascent within the force, and by 1904 he was leading a squad within the NYPD to combat the Black Hand. Petrosino was murdered while on assignment in Sicily in 1909; the depth of his impact and popularity was manifested by a turnout of over 250,000 people for his funeral. Talty’s fast-moving and well-constructed narrative gives the law enforcement hero and pioneer the recognition he deserves. (Apr.)
Talty's (Empire of Blue Water) newest work suffers from hysteria overload and hero worship, neither of which provides any substantive information about the infamous Black Hand, or the "brilliant detective," Joseph Petrosino. There are no numbers, statistics, or real facts about the crimes, which are vaguely described through contemporary newspaper sources that sound much more like rumors than reporting. Talty's research consists of an uncritical dive into early 20th-century newspaper sources, without ever questioning the impartiality (and anti-Italian bias) of the documents or their sources or verifying crimes, victims, or criminals anywhere else. All the reader is able to learn is that Petrosino was a savior to New York's Italian immigrant community, which was (apparently) completely wild with terror over an organized (or unorganized, we're not really sure) gang of murderers, bombers, extortionists, and kidnappers, until one of them murdered him while he was investigating in Sicily. This is the kind of book that gives popular history a bad name—an unabashedly uninformed recitation of mythologized stories presented as truth. VERDICT For those who don't want a critical eye aimed at their historical information.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI
A thrilling tale of the "Italian Sherlock Holmes."Joseph Petrosino (1860-1909) started out at as a shoeshine boy and ran a garbage cart, but through a Tammany Hall connection, he got a job as a detective with the New York Police Department. Ostensibly the story of the mob and their uninhibited growth at the turn of the 20th century, Talty's (Hangman, 2014, etc.) book presents much more, narrating the desperate struggle of one group of immigrants, the Italians, trying to eke out a life and raise their children without fear of abuse. They sought acceptance but suffered due to the acts of a few of their number. The government was biased, the police were indifferent, and most immigrants struggled to find jobs. While the Black Hand crime organization terrorized the Italian community, police protection was ineffective, virtually nonexistent, and the Secret Service only protected the rich and powerful. As the terror spread beyond Italian communities, calls went out to jail, deport, or bar absolutely all Italians from entering America. Petrosino convinced the police commissioner to allow him to form an Italian Squad. It was only five men, but all were fluent in Sicilian, expert in disguises, and able to blend in sufficiently to learn the secrets of their quarry. In the first year, they halved child kidnappings, protection rackets, and bombings, with little support from fellow police. Petrosino was beyond remarkable, dedicated to his work, absolutely fearless, and furious at any who would pay the Black Hand's demands. The story of what he did almost single-handedly, as well as the systems he devised to do so, is fascinating, and the persecution, low pay, abuse, and ignorance of the immigrants' rich culture strike a chord close to home these days. Talty is an excellent storyteller, and this particular story is highly relevant as America's next set of immigrants struggles for acceptance.
What a terrific read! Through incredible historical research and a detective’s eye for the telling detail, Stephan Talty chronicles Joseph Petrosino’s dogged pursuit of cold-blooded extortionists and killers. It’s a story about immigration, urban life, and the struggle of law enforcement to confront the terror spread by a start-up criminal underworld at the turn of the twentieth century.” —Dick Lehr, author of the New York Times bestseller Black Mass “The Black Hand is a fascinating immersion into an almost forgotten time and culture in which a mysterious criminal enterprise terrorized immigrants seeking a new life in America. Stephan Talty’s book provides a richly woven, engrossing tale of one man determined to help his fellow Italian Americans resist the threat and prosper. A solid addition to the American history library.” —Gregory A. Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500 “Stephan Talty is a marvelous storyteller, and with The Black Hand, he’s hit a gusher: the true tale of one of New York City’'s greatest detectives at war with a lethal secret society and at odds with his own department. In Talty’s hands, this is a thrilling instant classic.” —Robert Kolker, author of the New York Times bestseller Lost Girls “Given the secret nature of the Black Hand—which terrorized New York and the nation a century ago—Talty’s account is extraordinarily detailed. Even more intimate is the portrait of Petrosino, chief Mafia detective. An important and gripping book.” —A. J. Baime, author of The Arsenal of Democracy “Readers of this propulsive, cinematic book will feel transported to a crucial moment in our history. Stephan Talty’s masterful portrayal of this early age of organized crime swept me up instantly and didn’t let go until the final page. In the spirit of The Black Hand’s richly evoked Italian-American world, I say ‘bravo.'" —Charles Brandt, author of the New York Times bestseller I Heard You Paint Houses “The Black Hand is nonfiction noir at its best: a real-life Godfather prequel that pits an unforgettable Italian-American hero against the seemingly unstoppable menace that would become the New York Mafia.” —Mark Adams, author of the New York Times bestseller Turn Right at Machu Picchu “Stephan Talty’s thoroughly researched The Black Hand vividly recounts the rise of Italian organized crime in New York, the Italian immigrant police detective who led the fight against it, and the anti-Italian hysteria it aroused across America. It’s a great book.” —Tyler Anbinder, author of City of Dreams “Stephan Talty’s The Black Hand offers a fascinating glimpse of a period in New York City in what is a classic and suspenseful account of a growing terror and the detective who won’t give up, no matter what it costs him.”—Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Devil in the Grove “The story of what [Petrosino] did almost single-handedly, as well as the systems he devised to do so, is fascinating, and the persecution, low pay, abuse, and ignorance of the immigrants’ rich culture strike a chord close to home these days. Talty is an excellent storyteller, and this particular story is highly relevant as America’s next set of immigrants struggles for acceptance.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review