‘Sex Money Mur­der’ tracks cops and killers

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Puzzles - BY ROCHELLE OL­SON Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

In the fi­nal pages of “Sex Money Mur­der,” Jonathan Green asks his two pro­tag­o­nists why they agreed to speak ex­ten­sively with him about their lives in the tit­u­lar gang from the Sound­view projects of the Bronx.

Emilio Romero, who once com­manded the gang un­der the street name Pipe, said he wanted peo­ple to un­der­stand that he and his friends aren’t an­i­mals. “Yes, we sold crack and we killed peo­ple, but I only played the hand I was dealt. I had moms, sis­ters who I loved. I want peo­ple to know that any­one caught up in gang life is a hu­man be­ing,” he told Green.

His friend Suge added, “We want peo­ple to know that the streets don’t love you. They never did.”

A jour­nal­ist, Green spent years re­port­ing the book. He in­ter­viewed the gang mem­bers, the cops who worked the project and the cases, FBI agents and pros­e­cu­tors. He pored over vo­lu­mi­nous court and crim­i­nal records. He watched hours of foren­sic video from mur­der scenes. I’ve seen a share of the same ma­te­rial and char­ac­ters as a court­house jour­nal­ist, and Green’s ac­count reads true.

The writer de­scribes the rise and fall of the SMM gang as it co­in­cided with the crack epi­demic in the hous­ing projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s. De­tails are abun­dant but not to the point of dis­trac­tion or in­credulity.

The book opens with a point-blank killing on Thanks­giv­ing Day dur­ing the an­nual, and pre­vi­ously peace­ful, hol­i­day foot­ball game in the heart of Sound­view. The mur­der, or­dered on a lie by jailed SMM leader Peter “Pis­tol Pete” Rol­lock, led to the in­ex­orable end of the group’s smoth­er­ing en­ter­prise.

Green de­scribes not just the gang mem­bers but the tenac­ity and hu­man­ity of in­ves­ti­ga­tors and a key pros­e­cu­tor. The best parts were the de­tails of the lives of all in­volved, where they came from, their per­sonal lives, how they in­ter­acted, where they landed. There were mo­ments

W.W. Nor­ton (413 pages, $27.95)

of com­pas­sion and ul­ti­mately sur­prises in the fates of the char­ac­ters.

This is no tale, how­ever, of tri­umph over ad­ver­sity. The lives of the gang­sters had a grind­ing aim­less­ness in a cy­cle of drug deal­ing, vi­o­lence and prison. At times, I wished for a stronger nar­ra­tive pull or a strand of hope to get me through the book. As hard as it was to keep mov­ing for­ward, know­ing the end­ing would be harsh, I ul­ti­mately won­dered how it must have felt to live that way.

Sex Money Mur­der By Jonathan Green

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