A Gun in My Gucci: Two Outsiders Take Down the Chicago Mob is right what it says on the tin. Author E. C. Smith, one of a mere handful of women in the FBI in the 80s, recounts how she managed to help put away a not-insignificant chunk of the Chicago mob based on testimony from gangster-turned-informant Ken Eto, the highest-ranking (and maybe only?) Japanese-American member of the Chicago Outfit.
I first came across the book from an episode of Parallax Views, but this story might be familiar to anyone who’s deep into true crime. At any rate, Smith’s inside account of not only the Ken Eto case but how she became an FBI agent is worth reading on its own merits. Have I ever stopped to think about what it takes to become an FBI agent? No, and I doubt many people have. But now that I know, it’s little wrinkle that will stay in my brain forever; another puzzle piece in my understanding of how the world works.
Over time, I’ve realized that my favorite non-fiction is biographies, auto- or otherwise. It’s all of the interesting bits of going out and meeting new people without all of the stress entailed by smalltalk and social interactions. This certainly holds true for A Gun in My Gucci. Smith’s personality (warts and all) comes through crystal clear in lucid prose packed with wry humor and direct asides to the reader. In the hands of a less competent writer this would be awkward, but since Smith started her professional life as an English teacher she can put together a sentence or two. Is it polished, NYT bestseller writing? No, not quite, but it also doesn’t need to be. Even though I’m not sure we’d get along in real life, all the way through I was rooting for Smith (and Eto) and found her an engaging pyschopomp in the world of FBI agents and Chicago organized crime.
This expertise from a past life also means that A Gun in My Gucci is a quick read; according to my Kindle, I finished it off in three and a half hours. All killer no filler. Insecure writers often fail to trust their prose—usually with no good reason—and end up conveying the same point in two or three different ways, making redundancy a hallmark of amateur writing. If it’s not redundancy, then it’s superfluousness: an inability to murder their darlings. Part of the reason that A Gun in My Gucci reads so fast, in addition to the Hollywood-level source material, is that Smith doesn’t mince words or pad things out with a bunch of irrelevant incidentals. Not once did I get bored enough to start skimming, and praise from Caesar is praise indeed.
Smith was also interviewed for a Japanese documentary about Eto in 2008, Tokyo Joe: The Man Who Brought Down the Chicago Mob (Mafia o Utta Otoko), which is available in full on YouTube (for now). But if you want an engaging read for your next flight, or to keep you occupied during your commute, A Gun in My Gucci is worth the buy.