Readers on Satan's Circus

Satan's Circus by Mike Dash

'I have a particular fondness for Satan’s Circus, which I read during researching American Rose to get a flavor of municipal corruption in early 20th century Manhattan. Dash’s dry wit, voracious research, and flawless eye for atmospheric detail make this true tale of murder and vice read like the very best noir fiction.'
Karen Abbott, author of Sin and the Second City and American Rose

‘Mike Dash has produced a colorful yet sobering examination of the Becker-Rosenthal affair that surpasses anything that's been written about the case since Andy Logan released "Against the Evidence" back in the 1970s. In placing special emphasis on such primary resources as trial records, confidential detective reports, and personal interviews, Dash has done a brilliant investigative job that makes "Satan's Circus" an indispensible research tool for those who wish to study the case further.’
Rose Keefe, author of The Starker: Big Jack Zelig, the Becker-Rosenthal Case, and the Advent of the Jewish Gangster

‘Author Mike Dash has provided us with a thorough description of the corruption and vice in New York City, specifically the Times Square area (Satan's Circus) at the turn of the 20th century. Lieutenant Charley Becker's effort to cover up his graft by eliminating gambler Herman Rosenthal, who planned on blowing the whistle on Becker's crookedness, is covered in great detail… This is a story of the murder of Rosenthal, the corruption of the New York police department, and the trial that sent a police lieutenant and the four hired hands to the electric chair in Sing Sing prison. A definite plus of the book is the inclusion of maps of Manhattan in the front to show the location of key events in the story, but it does have one definite drawback. There are seven photos and one drawing at the front of the book of key players in the story. Photos of the actual murderers and other key individuals should have been included as well.’
Bill Emblom on

'A magnificently researched story… author Mike Dash has produced a truly enthralling read.'
Crimecracker blogspot

‘A prodigious researcher, British writer Mike Dash enriches his story with authenticity, telling details and larger than life personalities of that time.’
Gail Cooke on

‘The problem with a lot of true crime writing is it relies too much on other true crime books and doesn't get to grips with original sources. A lot of it, lets face it, is a bit sloppy. And even at its peak, a writer like James Ellroy can produce a brilliant and gripping piece of 'faction' like American Tabloid, but at the end you really don't know what's documented, what's made up, what's a good guess, because there are no sources. In short, this is a genre that has largely been bypassed by regular historians.

‘In which case thank god for Dr Mike Dash. I've just finished reading his latest look at American criminals about the roots of the Mafia: First Family, but Satan's Circus is every bit as good. The Circus of the title is a notorious area of New York which, at the turn of the century, was the centre of scams and purse-snatching, prostitution and gambling. Every kind of vice, and every kind of criminal, could be found there. Against this vividly-painted backdrop Dash tells the story of Charley Becker, the only serving officer on the NY Police payroll to be tried for murder. Becker like most of his contemporaries, bought his way onto the force as a way of plugging into the wellspring of graft and bribery being a policeman provided. Unlike them he was of German origin and marked out as particularly intelligent and articulate. Which ultimately made him a particularly intelligent, articulate and corrupt policeman who got so involved in scheming and double dealing that he wound up having to kill to cover up his activities.

‘Given how incredibly corrupt and nepotistic the police and local government were at the time - which Dr Dash lovingly lays out for you with examples that are almost funny they're so incredible - it says something for Becker that he was still noticeably worse than his fellow officers.

‘Dr Dash follows his career through his indictment and trial, making evident the many agendas being pursued by defense and prosecution, as well as the powers that be, that eventually led to his execution. It's an incredible, meticulously researched story and if you like your true crime to be sensationally written, rather than just sensationalist, Satan's Circus will grip you.’
F.C. Jerome on

'Dash does a terrific job of creating scene, establishing characters and building a story out of history. It's a fascinating read on the way politics in old New York worked through Tammany Hall and the power that gangsters held.'
Clockstein on

‘I have read many turn of the century historical tomes by Erik Larson and others and have found that some suffer from less than interesting topics (in the context of the era), an expansive and disjointed narrative, or simply not enough detail.

‘Satan's Circus does a very good job of mitigating these pitfalls. The book covers much more than just Charles Becker. Exposing the birth and reign of New York's police corruption, the sinister power of Tamany Hall, and a cast of interesting characters the book delivers on nearly all fronts while answering the question of Charles Becker's guilt.

‘Overall, I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in police history, New York history, or Tammany Hall. It's a long but worthy read.’
J.S. Martin on