Last week, Patrick and I went to Las Vegas for our anniversary. We wanted to soak up some sun, lounge by the pool, and escape our ordinary routines. Temperatures hit 112 degrees, making poolside the perfect place to read Dune for the first time. Some quiet time with my sweetie, a cold drink, a lounge chair, and a book? It was a nice trip.
Vegas is a great place for eavesdropping. We overheard an elderly veteran holding forth about his friend who won a purple heart for being hit in the head with a can of Spam. In Vegas, the cast of characters is always colorful. It’s like Disneyland, but only if all the characters were hopped up on cocaine.
Instead of seeing a show, we went to the Mob Museum. Housed in a historic court house downtown, the museum contains an impressive collection of artifacts, stories, images, and exhibits. It highlights the history, practices, crimes, and prosecution of criminal syndicates in America. And because my next novel is set against a backdrop of organized crime, I was especially curious about the topic.
What an educational day! I learned that the organized crime groups we think of as “the mob” arose from ethnic gangs that formed in the slums in cities like New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee. They operated illegal businesses, offering services that legitimate businesses wouldn’t touch, such as prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and loan sharking. And when vices became legal (for example, the end of prohibition), the mob funneled their money and power into legitimate enterprises. Did you know the mob infiltrated the hospitality industry? I didn’t!
The Fall of the Mob
The rise of television played an important role in the decline of organized crime. In 1950 a Congressional committee was formed, led by Senator Carey Kefauver. The committee conducted hearings in cities across America, questioning mob bosses and witnesses while the public watched the bad guys squirm on live television.
The Mob Museum is housed inside a courthouse where some of those hearings took place over sixty years ago. You can sit on the wooden benches inside the restored court room and watch video clips from the hearings held inside. This was very cool! And just for fun, in the basement of the museum there is a prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with a hidden room behind a painting, and some truly mediocre coffee. (They also serve alcohol.)
The Return of Organized Crime?
Does the mob exist today? Fedora hats and tommy guns may have gone out of style, but corporate crime and government corruption are far from extinct. In real life, we can vote corrupt politicians out of office and support journalists that shine a light on the moral rot behind unethical business practices. And in fiction, we love stories of the good guys and the bad guys. We love to watch them battle it out.
My next project is a series of novels about a young woman ensnared in a world of corporate espionage, blind ambition, and organized crime. And while the notion of mobsters in Seattle might feel fanciful, if you replace the word Mob with the word Corruption, it feels much closer to home, doesn’t it? Why carry a briefcase full of cash when a shell company or a SuperPAC can serve the same purpose? Why bother to put a price on someone’s head, when you can run a bot-campaign against them on social media and destroy their reputation overnight?
Organized crime has gotten an upgrade. And I can’t wait to share my next book with you all! Stay tuned.