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William Kennedy: Legs

Legs is Jack Legs Diamond, famous gangster. He was called Legs either because he was a good dancer or because he was good at running away. He was shot dead but his assailants are still unknown, though there has been a lot of speculation about the culprits. This novel is narrated by Marcus Gorman, who was Diamond’s lawyer. He is telling the story in 1975, forty-four years after the death of Diamond (though Gorman starts off by saying that he doesn’t believe that Diamond is dead). Gorman tells stories to a group of friends – a barman, a reporter and a whore – about Diamond, starting with how he first met him and how Diamond hires him to be his lawyer. He goes on to recount what he sees to be the truth about Diamond, which is not necessarily what appeared in the press, which mythologised the gangster.

We know from various accounts Kennedy has given that he considered various ways of writing about Diamond – having him as just one character in the novel, a story about the making of a film about him, writing about him from multiple perspectives, telling the true story, telling the myth and writing about only his last day but he ended up with the Gorman approach, where we can see the”true’ story but also how he did become a myth in the eyes of the public. Gorman is also a character who is gradually drawn more and more into Diamond’s criminal activities, particularly when he goes with him to Europe on a drug run. We also meet Diamond’s various women and his associates. But, ultimately, the story is about the fascination we have for a gangster who, whatever terrible crimes he commits, we cannot help but be interested in and Kennedy, to his credit, manages to show us the real Diamond but also the mythic Diamond.

Publishing history

First published 1975 by Coward-McCann