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Monday, April 24, 2006

Brownsville GN Review

Brownsville GN HC
NBM Publishing; $18.95
Writer: Neil Kleid; Artist: Jake Allen

From the opening pages of Brownsville, it’s clear this book will be well told and well designed. Kleid gives us a story and characters that pull you in, and Allen provides stellar inks.

The book is primarily non-fiction, the characters real Jewish gangsters part of Murder Inc., a crime syndicate that recruited heavily out of East New York. Kleid focuses the story of the gangsters around Albert Tannenbaum, otherwise known as Allie boy or Tick Tock. As a kid looking for work and some excitement, Allie gets involved with the Jewish gangsters of Brooklyn. We follow Allie as he grows up and progresses through the ranks of Murder Inc. He faces tough choices early on – his family with his father in charge or his gangster family with Louis “Lepke” Buchalter at the helm. Twice he has to choose between the two, each time a different choice and a different result.

Allie’s father is unique and gives him his freedom to make these choices early on. He says at one point, “There are all kinds of people in this world. I pray that God gives you the strength to know which kind not to be.”

The book is interesting in the fact that you really do learn quite a bit about the Jewish gangsters of the time – especially the key members of Murder Inc. Also interesting is the more universal message of family, obligation, figuring out what the right thing is, and sticking to it.

Not all that long ago I reviewed Joe Kubert’s “Jew Gangster” GN, and comparing these two books is hard to resist – they have their similarities, after all, especially toward the beginning – a Jewish kid going down the wrong path, the path toward gangster life. However, the criticisms that I had with Kubert’s book don’t apply to “Brownsville.” While I had trouble feeling for the main character in “Jew Gangster,” Kleid made Allie engaging, beyond a stock character, and into a person you are curious about, who you want to hear their story. For one, Kleid focuses more on telling the story of Allie’s associates and work as much as his relationships – which was really as much a part of Allie’s work as extortion or contract killing. Brownsville could have been a dry retelling of actual events, but it does have a soul, it has much more than just historical value.

Ultimately, "Brownsville" is an all-round excellent book. The art is wonderful – Allen even does a nice job recreating the true look of the gangsters themselves. The story is good both as a non-fiction tale of the times and as a universal lesson for any time.

Bottom Line: A

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