The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly

The full title and subtitle of this book? The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly: The Fatal Fall of Abe Reles, the Mobster Who Shattered Murder, Inc.’s Code of Silence. After typing it, I’m ready for a nap.

The title pretty much sums up the wonkish tone of the offering, which is, even so, one of the best organized crime books I’ve ever read. It may be of primary interest to those who are completely obsessed with the Mob, and particularly with the Mob in the 1930s. Regardless, it’s magnificent.

The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly concerns the career, and more specifically the death, of Abe Reles, a government witness against Murder, Incorporated. Murder Inc. was “The Syndicate,” the enforcement wing of the national Mafia organization (though most particularly in the New York area). Reles’s death was a critical moment in the history of the mob, since the case was one of the government’s first real attempts to prosecute the Mafia since the Capone days.

The first part of the book, roughly speaking, relates the events in Reles’s life and in his murder. The whole second half is essentially a deconstruction of the investigative process, in which it is painfully obvious to everyone (including to members of Congress) that there was a major cover-up — but no one can figure out quite what happened.

It’s a bit of a police procedural at times; those tend to leave me cold when they’re fiction, but for some reason here it all comes together. I read it thoroughly engrossed.

Unfortunately, the author, who studied Murder, Incorporated for 10 years, passed away as the book was being prepared for publication. So there won’t be any more awesome books coming from him. Major bummer.

This one is serious essential reading for organized crime scholars.


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