Robert Kennedy often worked in the shadow of his brother John, but he found a sense of purpose and identity when he committed to wipe out corruption in the labor movement. His white whale was Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union, who was uncannily able to evade charges for years despite being up to his neck in criminal behavior. In Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa, author James Neff follows their clashes against a backdrop of Vegas lounges, the Hollywood tabloid press and Washington politics.
We know today that this story doesn't end well for anyone involved; Kennedy was gunned down in 1968 and Hoffa disappeared in 1975, the likely victim of a mafia hit. That said, reading about their years of conflict is as grabby as a James Ellroy-Mario Puzo mashup. Neff's straightforward reporting dazzles us with the odd cameo appearance from Marilyn Monroe, and amps up the shock of violence that includes dousing a reporter with acid.
Hoffa was born poor and was proud of his self-made status, sneering at the Kennedys and their coddled lives. Robert Kennedy plays into this perception when he first takes on Hoffa, barely bothering to build a case against him since his guilt seems self-evident. When that fails to bring him to justice, hundreds of investigators hand-copy IRS documents to build a case, yet once again there's little punishment. Hoffa's cockiness goes too far when President Kennedy is assassinated; upon hearing the news, "(H)e was said to have stood up, climbed on a chair, and cheered," a move that caused several of his employees to quit. Refocusing on building the case against Hoffa helped Kennedy heal after the devastating loss of his brother.
Vendetta makes it clear that crime sometimes pays very well, and that justice can be anything but swift. It can also make for highly entertaining reading.