cover image The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, and Heavyweights

The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, and Heavyweights

Shaun Assael. Blue Rider, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16975-5

Writing with the flair of a mystery writer and the attention to detail of an investigative journalist, longtime ESPN staffer Assael (Steroid Nation) dissects the suspicious death of former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston, whose body was found in his home on Jan. 5, 1971, having been dead for several days. Liston, who according to the coroner’s report died from natural causes, was no stranger to criminal activity in gritty and volatile Las Vegas in the 1960s, and many theories emerged over the years that he was murdered. The engrossing depiction of Sin City’s corrupt cops, malevolent mobsters, and drug dens follows in the footsteps of Nick Tosches’s The Devil and Sonny Liston and features fresh interviews with investigators, politicians, and criminals who ran the city at the time, including a key suspect who reveals his own theory about Liston’s death. Assael reports diligently on Liston’s life and inner demons as well as the Las Vegas scene and uses his investigation to frame the narrative, writing in the first person without overtly inserting himself. Though the inconclusive ending may disappoint readers, Assael’s journey into the seedy underworld of the Las Vegas’s past is worth the ride. (Oct.)