2011-07-13 / Local News

Acclaimed author returning to Cherry Hill to discuss ‘Devil Himself’


“Money Wanders,” 2003
“Jackie Disaster,” 2004
“Shakedown Beach,”
“Turnpike Flameout,”
“Spinning Dixie,” 2006
“The Devil Himself,”

Eric Dezenhall will be speaking and doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble, 911 Haddonfield Rd., Cherry Hill, on Wednesday, July 20 at 7 p. m.

For a man who is so often helping those in trouble to survive the slings and arrows sent their way, Eric Dezenhall himself is a really nice guy. He is unfailingly polite, forthright, articulate—the kind of guy you’d be delighted to have in your family.

The name of this self-described “nice Jewish boy from Cherry Hill,” a graduate of Cherry Hill West and Dartmouth, may have a familiar ring because it’s Dezenhall who makes frequent appearances on TV when big names are involved in big troubles. Recently, he was predictably asked to comment on national TV on the Anthony Weiner situation.

But those Cherry Hill roots still run deep. “I grew up in Cherry Hill Estates, near Al Martino who played Johnny Fontane in ‘The Godfather,’ and that was a pretty big deal.”

For as long as he can remember, Dezenhall has loved to write. And he’s done it successfully throughout his adult life, often tapping into Cherry Hill characters and memories. So in his works of fiction—and they have come in steady stream—it’s not unusual to find some South Jersey reference points in his novels.

His latest book, however, strays from the local scene to the global. In “The Devil Himself,” Dezenhall has reached into his long association with the family of the late Meyer Lansky to tell a tale of Lansky’s significant role in the Mob’s participation in tracking Nazi spies during World War II.

“I always knew there was a story about Meyer Lansky that hadn’t been told—I just didn’t know what it was,” explained this determined writer who doesn’t mind doing some investigative journalism to get his novels framed. “It all came into focus after 9/11 when the national conversation began about what the U.S was—and was not—willing to do to deal with our country’s enemies.”

Dezenhall learned that Lansky had actually kept notes about his work with the Navy during World War II to hunt down Nazi spies on the East Coast, and also to help find contacts in Sicily prior to the Allied invasion.

“Lansky’s granddaughter, Cynthia Duncan, shared these notes with me, and I started digging deeper into the story. The government had denied that this program existed for almost 40 years, and then finally admitted it.”

Dezenhall got his hands on these crucial government papers, and also had as resources his father-in-law’s best friend, a soldier who had liberated the Dachau death camp, and his father-in-law himself, also a veteran of World War II. The author’s literary immersion into that period in American history, through the lens of a Jewish gangster, provides fascinating reading.

Dezenhall himself has been fascinated by the eagerness of these Jewish mobsters to enlist and fight for the country that was constantly trying to put them in jail. “It tells you that for these immigrants, nothing was more important than proving you were truly an American.”

“The Devil Himself” also gave Dezenhall insights into the entire culture of the Jewish mob, and its assimilation into the American mainstream. “As Jewish gangsters assimilated,” he noted, “they sent their sons to the Ivy League.” .

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