It’s not your average “history” book, but it indeed chronicles a violent period in the life of Los Angeles that’s also been captured in the form of a major motion picture starring Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling.
(And for a voluminous work priced at $7.99, Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles is quite the bang for your buck—pun completely intended.)
The real gangster squad’s all-out street war to defeat and drive out hoodlums was initially outlined by award-winning journalist Paul Lieberman in his seven-part Los Angeles Times series detailing the full range of murder and secrets and revenge and heroism brought about by the fight between cops and hoodlums in noir-ish post-World War II L.A.
For his 2008 series, Lieberman spent more than a decade tracking down surviving members of the secretive LAPD squad that battled Mickey Cohen and other criminals in the 1950s.
He interviewed 150 in all, including Cohen’s associates, and assembled thousands of pages of documents, including grand jury transcripts, crime reports, old family letters and photos, and an LAPD study of each mob killing in the city from 1900 to 1951.
Soon Warner Bros. came calling on Lieberman, optioning his narrative for a feature film—and here’s the official trailer. (Warning…rough stuff here, to say the least):
Lieberman also heard from thousands of readers after the series ran, asking “When can I get the book?”
And here it is—a true epic that tells the sweeping tale of two very different cops: Sergeant Jack O’Mara, a square-jawed church usher (played by Josh Brolin in the movie) and Sergeant Jerry Wooters, a cynical maverick (played by Ryan Gosling). What they share in common is an obsession with the squad’s priority target, the showboating Cohen (played by Sean Penn).
O’Mara sets a trap for Cohen using his own guns to prove the gangster was a killer, while Wooters forms an alliance with Mickey’s fearless rival, Jack “The Enforcer” Whalen. Both of their crusades come to a head on the same night in the last days of the 1950s, and the aftermath would shake L.A.’s mob and police department, signaling the end of a defining era in the city’s history.
Check out this photo montage focusing on the real-life gangster squad the book is based on: