Much like Rose Keefe’s earlier works Guns and Roses: The Untold Story of Dean O’Banion and The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story, The Starker is quite an achievement in historical research. Unlike some of her contemporaries in the true crime field, Keefe does not simply reexamine documents well-worn by other researches and conjure up a different conclusion. Keefe does her leg work, often finding documents no one thought to look for and gathering testimonials from the person of interest’s friends and family members, who’s voice up to that time had not been heard. Because of this, long-held beliefs about criminals of yester-year fall away, leaving the reader with a well-rounded, human rather than caricatured, picture of that person.
The First half tells of Jack Zelig’s transformation from a petty pickpocket into the most important gang leader in 1910 New York. Midway through the book, the point of interest changes to the biggest crime of the day, the murder case of gambler Herman Rosenthal and how Zelig tragically gets caught up in it.