The Devil Himself

Written by Eric Dezenhall
Review by Audrey Braver

It’s 1982. President Reagan is exploring unorthodox methods to counter acts of terrorism. He knows Roosevelt enlisted the services of the Mob during World War II to organize the dockworkers’ cooperation in ferreting out Nazi saboteurs among their ranks. Reagan has the official report, but he is anxious to learn what’s not in the file. The principal player in this case is Meyer Lansky, so Reagan turns to a White House intern, Jonah Eastman, who is the grandson of Lansky’s partner and who also knows Lansky well enough to call him “Uncle Meyer.” Lansky, who is near death, is willing to tell his story, which comes as a surprise to Jonah.

The scene shifts to February of 1942. The French ocean liner, Normandie, is being refitted as a US troop ship when it catches fire and sinks in New York harbor. Many think this is an act of enemy sabotage. The government sends men to infiltrate the docks, but the docks are controlled by the union and the union is controlled by the Mob. So the government has to go to the Mob, specifically Meyer Lansky, who ultimately has to go to his old partner, Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Although in Dannemora Prison, Luciano still has influence over the dockworkers. For his cooperation, Luciano was released from prison and deported to Sicily. Lansky never received any official recognition for his patriotic actions during World War II.

The author has created a fascinating tale, a mixture of fact and creative fiction about military covert actions, espionage, and how the Mob, while breaking many of its laws, remains patriotic when its country is under threat. This is a brilliantly entertaining novel.