Capone the Muse

Three years ago I decided to honor my dishonorable fascination with Al Capone. Born of my upbringing in Chicago, reinforced by The Untouchables, and tweaked by the true crime books and gangster pictures that have followed in the wake of The Godfather, I decided to write I, Capone, a novel predicated on the idea that Capone secretly dictated his memoirs to a Miami reporter.

In fact, Capone had tried to persuade a number of writers to write his biography or ghost-write his autobiography. But they had wisely turned him down, not only because of the dangers involved, but because Al Capone was an ingenious manipulator and bald-faced liar.

In I, Capone, he is out of prison and more or less recovered from his incarceration and the grueling treatments for tertiary syphilis to which he had been subjected by penitentiary doctors. When a young reporter writes a letter denouncing Miami’s attempts to prevent an ailing Capone from returning to his Palm Island estate, Capone invites him over and proposes that they undertake writing the gangster’s memoirs, with the sole stipulation that the result cannot be published until after the death of Capone’s son.

After Capone’s own death, the reporter is terrified when Al’s family and the Chicago Organization get wind of the existence of Capone’s tell-all. After a break-in, the reporter flees Miami with his wife and son, but the project costs him his job, his family, and his self respect, and he dies of alcoholism just before Sonny Capone passes away. But he bequeaths his one surviving copy of Capone’s memoirs to his son, who finally gets it into print.

That, in any case, is I, Capone’s back story, but except for a brief prologue and epilogue, the book otherwise entirely consists of Capone reminiscing about his life in “his own” words: his Brooklyn upbringing, his criminal apprenticeship, his marriage, John Torrio’s mentorship, Capone’s rise to the top of the Chicago “Organization,” the wave of murders that marked his dominance over rival gangs, his downfall, his incarcerations, his rationalizations and what passed for his philosophy.

I have tried to employ Capone’s voice as he might have spoken after a boyhood in Brooklyn, a spotty education, his elocution lessons in Chicago, the company he kept that ranged from prostitutes and gunmen to celebrities and the founding fathers of Organized crime, his years in prison, and the medical treatments that I believe resulted in his derangement.

Writing his ostensible memoirs gave me a chance to try to fill in the gaps in Capone’s historical record. The record is otherwise a nightscape lit by lightning. But recent scholarship has illuminated some of his life as a gangster, a family man, and, for a time, the wealthiest criminal in American history. So I have tried to stick to the facts and semi-facts about Capone’s life, and to fill the gaps with as well-founded speculations as I could devise, based on three years’ research in everything from his biographies to FBI and federal penitentiary files. The result, I hope, is a voluminous but fast-paced, startling, authentic, and disturbing account of history’s most infamous gangster.

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Ward. All rights reserved.

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