Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review: W. R. Burnett, Little Caesar (1929)

In Little Caesar, author W. R. Burnett, who had in a minor way infiltrated the Chicago underworld, strove to capture the career criminal, his milieu, and his idiom. Much of what was innovative in 1929 may seem quaint today; as a result, it can be easy to miss that Burnett was fomenting a revolution in crime fiction that would culminate 45 years later in the works of George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard. But the highest praise for Little Caesar is to note that it is still a potent read. The story of the young gangster, Rico, moves quickly, but because Burnett values language and character over plot, readers may want to force themselves to slow down. Little Caesar's prose is so skillfully terse that it encourages speedreading. Grade: A

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