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Legs by William J. Kennedy
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I pretty much picked up this book because I have loved the other Albany novels and wanted to see what is designated as the first in this series. After finishing Kennedy’s newest book Chango Beads and the Two-toned Shoes, I wanted to go back and read the first of this extraordinary collection. Unfortunately, I did not like it as much as the others. The story is a historical fiction piece that depicts the life of Jack "Legs" Diamond as told by his attorney, Marcus Gorman. Marcus is drawn to Diamond and sacrifices a budding law practice to become Jack’s counselor. Jack evidently attracts many people with his personality and adventures. His life certainly was interesting. He survived four gunshot wounds as he worked to established himself as a main player during the prohibition era. Infamous is probably the best description for Jack who lived in a time where the locals both feared and admired the gangsters, where a good lawyer could round up 20 alibi witnesses, and where a a man could keep a wife and mistress and sometimes a little something on the side. Kennedy does a nice job of depicting this flamboyant gangster and the end of an era in our history. For me it was nice to see the beginning of a collection I have read for years. ( )
  novelcommentary | Jul 8, 2012 |
If anti-heroes are your poison, this book is for you.
Can a writer ever take a vicious criminal, one to whom cruelty is second nature, and write about him in such a way that the reader comes to empathise with him, even to discover some traits of his character which show some specks of goodness?
Well, yes. Look at Shakespeare's Macbeth. And even though William Kennedy is not Shakespeare he does a good job on muting a reader's initial prejudices towards the 1930s New York gangster Jack 'Leg' Diamond. By the middle of the book one feels at least some identification with the criminal. And this is an enormous achievement given that, unlike in 'Macbeth' where our initial impression of the hero is one of admiration for his courage and loyalty, from the start of this novel we are left in no doubt about the thuggish character of 'Legs' Diamond. Very early in the book he is described as 'the most active brain in the New York underworld… Horatio Alger out of Finn McCool and Jesse James, shaping the dream that you could grow up in America and shoot your way to glory and riches' (page 13). I'll have to look up 'Horatio Alger', but I do know that Finn made short of his enemies and the Jesse was an out and out murderer of anyone who got in his way.
There is also considerable psychological insight into the characters and their motives. For instance, how does his long-suffering wife, Alice, cope with his infidelities? Especially one particular dalliance which has become permanent? 'Maybe he'd see a woman now and then. But to move into a hotel, to keep a woman permanently, to see her just hours after he'd seen Alice, and maybe after he'd been with Alice, was terrible…' (author's italics). And yet at the same time we are brought to understand how, in the world of Legs, there is no contradiction in having two women. Or more.
The writing is good. Listen: "The courtroom felt like a church still, old Presbyterian palace desanctified years ago; choir loft over Jack's head, judges sitting where the pulpit used to be, truncated suns over the door, ecclesiastical fenestration and only the faces on the walls different now: clergy and the Jesus crowd replaced with jurists. But retributionists all" (page 239)
The writing style is fast, pacey and racey You've got to be quick on the draw in the world of Legs Diamond, and the style reflects this. Lots of wisecracking, drinking, whoring and sudden (and often gratuitous and terrible) violence. But what do you expect from a novel about a notorious gangster?
It was first published in America in 1975 ( )
  Eamonn12 | Jul 31, 2009 |
This is one of those books you never forget. I'm a great lover of style which is just one of the reasons I LOVE Raymond Chandler. And I also love a writer who can create a new world out of an old one. Chandler's Los Angeles is so vivid I believe it though I've never seen an inch of it in the Los Angeles outside Chandler. William Kennedy is a writer like that. He has taken Albany New York, of all places, and made it completely his, given it what only an artist can give...or seen what perhaps what only an artist can see. Albany has become mythic. In Legs he gives us an electrifying portrait of an amoral man so much more alive than the rest of us. Legs Diamond in fact may have been nothing like Kennedy's Legs Diamond but it's Kennedy's Legs I believe in and love. He too is mythic in the hands of a great writer. ( )
  ShaggyBag | Jun 20, 2009 |
1985 Legs, by William Kennedy (read 7 Mar 1986) The 1984 Pulitzer Prize for fiction is the third book of a trilogy, so before I read it I thought I should read the first two books of the trilogy. This is the first. It tells of a gangster, Legs Diamond, who was killed in Albany in 1931. It is a disgusting book, with utterly unnecessary obscenity and I did not enjoy the book. I hope the next in the trilogy is better. ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 15, 2008 |
The most "historical" of Kennedy's Albany cycle novels, "Legs" offers a colorful look at Albany's heydey as a bustling city of commerce and crime. Legs Diamond is presented through the eyes of his attorney/gofer Marcus. The attorney has his doubts about getting mixed up with a gangster but falls under Legs' influence just as completely as gunmoll Kiki. The bootlegger-as-hero theme has another regional echo in the lore surrounding NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. The novel doesn't completely answer the question of "What Made Legs Tick" but it sketches the powerful influence he had over other people in New York State. Visitors to Albany can go to North Pearl Street where the Kenmore Hotel, the hangout of Legs and Kiki, still stands, remodeled into an attractive office building. The lobby has memorabilia about the building's days as a hotel and its infamous Rain-bo lounge.
  beachcomberT | Apr 7, 2008 |
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This is for Pete McDonald, a first-rate relative, and for all the archetypes lurking in Ruth Tarson's lake house.
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"I really don't think he's dead," I said to my three very old friends.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140064842, Paperback)

A fictionalized narrative of the erratic, stylish life and deadly career of notorious twenties gangster Legs Diamond, told with equivocal disbelief by his attorney, Marcus Gorman.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:59 -0400)

"Francis Phelan becomes a hobo after accidentally killing his son, but when he returns 22 years later, he cannot reunite his family." "...'Legs' brilliantly evokes the flamboyant career of the legendary gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond, who was finally murdered in Albany. Through the equivocal eyes of Diamond's attorney, Marcus Gorman (who scraps a promising political career for the more elemental excitement of the criminal underworld), we watch as Legs and his showgirl mistress, Kiki Roberts, blaze their gaudy trail across the tabloid pages of the 1920s and the 1930s. Diamond and his gangster entourage emerge as emblematic figures from an era of American innocence -- and corruption."… (more)

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