by Nicholas Pileggi
Mob chronicler Pileggi seems to have a case of the blands. Unlike his raw and peppery Wiseguy, this tale of two Chicago Mafia capos who ran the big rooms of casinos in the 1970s lacks the grit and textured details that electrified that previous work. (Don’t rush to the phone to nail down a development deal: Martin Scorsese is directing with Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone starring in the film version due this month.)
Casino’s central characters—Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, an oddsmaker who rises from running numbers in the Midwest to running the Stardust Casino on the Strip, and his boyhood friend Tony Spilotro, a triggerman and burglar who muscled Las Vegas gambling workers into paying enormous kickbacks—rarely come to life. Spilotro was killed in 1986; Rosenthal was Pileggi’s prime source.
Lefty’s desert-dry account of high life (and sudden deaths) in Vegas rarely catches fire. We learn that $1 million in $20 bills weighs 102 pounds and that Spilotro once punished a Mob turncoat by squeezing his head in a vise. Tony had an affair with Lefty’s wife, but the tale is as mild as Chef Boyardee. Casino will leave readers hungry for something spicier. (Simon & Schuster, $24)