DONALD HENDERSON CLARKE – Louis Beretti. Vanguard Press, hardcover, 1929. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover, photoplay edition, 1929. Novel Library #19, paperback, 1949; Avon #575, paperback, 1954. Film: Fox, 1930, as Born Reckless.

   My golly. This novel is freaking amazing. I can’t believe it.

   It’s the first novel by this NYC journalist who became close to famed NYC mobster Arnold Rothstein (who appears fictionally as Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby and as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, and who was famous for, among others things, fixing the 1919 World Series).

   One can’t help but think that Rothstein’s demise in 1928 freed Clarke to publish Louis Beretti along with the nonfiction In The Reign of Rothstein, both in 1929.

   There’s an awful lot of inside mobster facts about beating prohibition in Louis Beretti (such as how to make ‘smoke’ out of a quart of denaturalized wood alcohol sold at paint shops and adding a few drops of iodine, shaking the concoction til it attains a milky hue), that give the novel an incredible verisimilitude. Also some timeless mobster advice on success with the ladies: ‘treat a whore like a duchess and a duchess like a whore.’

   The novel is pretty much an episodic look at the life of a NYC mobster from birth to ‘maturity’. Think Little Caesar meets Studs Lonigan.

   The thing is, it’s much more fun to read than Little Caesar, and for the life of me I cannot understand why Burnett’s mob novel is hailed as an important first of its kind while this one is forgotten.

   It’s possibly because the film version of Louis Beretti is mostly forgotten (directed by John Ford in 1930), while the highly regarded film Little Caesar kept the novel’s title and has that iconic, genre defining performance from Edward G. Robinson as the lead.

   In any case, don’t sleep on Louis Beretti. It’s really, really good. It also shows how natural it was for close relationships to form between alcoholic journalists and bootleggers with a speakeasy.