My family had a small share of criminals: my uncle the bootlegger and strikebreaker (the first was OK with my parents; the second got him banned from the house). My grandfather was deported from Russia to America, directly from jail after a short career as a particularly unsuccessful burglar. Like most immigrants, we had more than our share of lost stories, painful memories and necessary reinventions. My father, as a boy, had been a courier for Murder, Inc, a group of gangsters who lived up to their name. He never spoke about it, or about his wartime career as a spy. My mother became a gossip columnist and never mentioned it (my favourite photograph was of her at 24 years old, unbearably beautiful, utterly chic, in a black-straw cartwheel hat, dark-red lipstick, and a smart black suit, her notepad and gold pen on a cocktail table).