Thursday Reviews: Wild Bill by Dana King, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Wild Bill

Dana King

Will Hickox is an FBI agent. He’s good. When he’s Wild Bill, he’s lucky. The FBI doesn’t like lucky. It makes them look bad. For years, he has worked Operation Fallout, the latest attempt to bring down Chicago’s infamous Outfit. Things are coming to a head when boss Giani Bevilacqua drops dead (in the book’s opening scene, no less). Suddenly, there’s a war on for leadership. Junior Bevilacqua believes he’s inherited The Outfit. Frank Ferrarro thinks he’s earned it. Junior is a Scarface wannabe more interested in lording his position over everyone than making money. Ferrarro is a business man, and even though it’s illegal, The Outfit is a business.

Hickox thinks he can get the long sought-after indictment before a prissy assistant US Attorney shuts the operation down. He starts stringing Ferrarro along. However, complicating things are Mitch Klimak, a Chicago cop with a chip on his shoulder, and Hickox’ feeling that maybe things would be better if Junior went down before anyone sees a grand jury. It doesn’t help that Klimak is the husband of Hickox’ lover Mad.

King paints a picture of the war on organized crime for what it is. It’s a game with give and take between both sides. Like The Wire, not all the criminals are bad guys. Not all the cops are good guys.

Alexander Hamilton

Ron Chernow

Of all the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton is an enigma. The bastard son of a disgraced Scottish nobleman, Hamilton grew up in The Bahamas learning the value of a pound. Never having any money, he learned its value very quickly. A job with a shipping firm earned him a slot at New York’s Kings College (now Columbia University). There, Hamilton fell in with the burgeoning patriot movement. It soon became his mission to liberate his adopted country from British rule.

As the Revolution erupted, Hamilton came to the attention of George Washington. Soon, he became indispensable to Washington, often writing his orders and drafting his letters. Many of Washington’s writings are actually Hamilton’s work. Hamilton’s position as Washington’s chief aide led to his appointment to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and as Washington’s Treasury Secretary during his first term as president.

Hamilton was hard-working, loyal to Washington without being blindly so, and not shy about taking charge if he thought something needed done. He was a dutiful husband who nonetheless found himself involved in America’s first high-profile sex scandal. His policies toward the nation’s banking system catapulted him to the head of the early Federalist Party and put him at war with Thomas Jefferson and former ally James Madison. Unfortunately for the Federalists, Hamilton also waged a personal war against Washington’s successor, John Adams. When Hamilton’s machinations cost Adams the presidency, it also wrecked Hamilton’s influence.

In his final days, however, the tables were turned. Hamilton, now a New York lawyer, had become something of an elder statesman. When he called out Aaron Burr for his role in a failed development project in New Jersey, Burr, ever the hot head, challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton detested dueling and planned to waste his shot. Burr didn’t pick up on this and shot Hamilton dead, somehow dodging two murder indictments.

Hamilton was a contradiction. A man of poor origins entrusted with the nation’s treasury. A faithful husband whose one dalliance became the first political sex scandal in America. A leader of the Federalist Party who became the agent of its ultimate destruction.

One thought on “Thursday Reviews: Wild Bill by Dana King, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

  1. Than you, Jim. This is much appreciated. You made my day with the reference to THE WIRE, which I was watching through for the first time while writing WILD BILL and viewing it like I’d never seen a television before. The idea for the story had been on my hard drive for several years, but not until I saw THE WIRE did it occur to me there was a way to tell such a story and make it hold together, though, of course, not as well as David Simon and his writers were able to do.

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