Books Worth Buying
Mob: Stories of Death and Betrayal from Organized Crime
By John William Tuohy
Mob: Stories of Death and Betrayal from Organized Crime|
Edited by Clint Willis
Contributing writers: Peter Maas, Nicholas Pileggi, Mario Puzo, Joe Pistone, Bruce McCalll, Pino, Arlacchi, Fredric Dannen, William Kennedy, Andris Kurins, Jeffrey Kurins.
Soft cover, 331 pages with bibliography.
This is a strong collection of worthy mob stories told by first-rate writers, including the late Peter Maas, that offer, intelligent, juicy portions of mob tales that stand heads above the rest. There’s the street savvy, desperation soaked story of undercover operative Donny Brasco, an oddly comfortable chapter from Mario Puzo’s Godfather and the unflinching brutality of Joey, a hitman who excels at his trade. However, the books corner stone is a thoughtful and superbly written introduction by editor Clint Willis. While most mob book introductions are the stuff of snooze, Willis hammers home several intelligent points on the hypocrisy that drenches mobdom, each of with wraps nicely around the books tales of double, deceit and quick death.
"Mobsters" Willis writes "often fall back on words like honor, loyalty, respect and tradition to explain their appalling crimes. Government tapes and mafia memoirs often feature mobsters talking about their work in terms people reserve for the most sacred institutions in their lives-the Marine Corps say, or the Catholic church"
Willis underlines his argument with the words that long winded father and son team, the Gotti’s, zeroing in on John Juniors 1999 interview with the New York Times Magazine, in which the Dense Don rewrote American history to compare the sufferings of the native American Indian to resentment against the Mafia and went on to redefine the words courage, strength, pride, respect and loyalty, in such twisted way that Machiavelli would have blushed.
Willis also brings out the Mafia’s empty promise of immorality with the elder Gotti’s statement "And this is gonna be a Cosa Nostra till I die. Be it an hour from now, or be it tonight, or a hundred years from now when I’m in jail. Its gonna be Cosa Nostra …."
That statement was picked up on FBI bugs and used in court against him, proving that if the Gotti’s words were guns and bullets, father and son would have accidentally shot themselves to death paragraphs ago. While the book offers a surprisingly wide blend of stories that create the fabric of the underworld as it is….including profile of mob mouthpiece, the gifted barrister Gerald Shargel….for me, the best of the lot is the chapter on Gambino family crime boss Paul Castellano, taken from the book, Boss of Bosses (O’Brien and Kurlins) on the day that the authors (who were also the FBI agents largely responsible for Castellano’s indictment)
The Castellano piece, well written and soaked with details, is a story within a story within a story. Reading this piece again, it will never fail to amaze me how the legacy of a super hood as complex, commanding and intelligent as Big Paul Castellano could be overshadowed by someone as pedestrian and simple as John Gotti, yet he does, proving once again that charisma will sell class every time.
The Castellano story takes place on the day that the agents arrived at Big Paulies sprawling Staten Island mansion to arrest him (as well as a dozen other Mob big shots) on sweeping set of RICO charges that virtually brought down the structure of the entire New York syndicate. The bug had been placed in ceiling fan inside the hulking Castellano’s kitchen. From that the story of Big Paulie springs.
During the arrest Castellano is civil, even professional, chastising his live in -girlfriend/house maid, the high strung Gloria Olarte "These men are just doing their jobs"
His approach works, against regulations, the agents don’t handcuff the Godfather, who notes his gratitude On the drive into Manhattan, one of the agents turns on the car radio to a loud and obnoxious commercial for Crazy Eddie, a local electronics dealer.
"I’d like to kill that guy" Castellano says matter-of-factly, causing one of the agents to stare at him. "Just a figure of speech" Castellano says "I mean, lots of people would"
He was right, too. I was one of them.
Its with the next news flash that Castellano learns that it was a bug in his house that brought around the arrest of all the heads of the New York families.
Its after this point that Castellano’s civility increase even beyond what it was. He becomes sincere, witty and even vulnerable, discussing how his diabetes had caused effected his sexual relations with Gloria ( "Come on boy’s" Castellano tells the G men "Don‘t be squeamish")
He artfully parlays his charm into convincing the agents to drive him across town for lunch (and away from the cafeteria in the federal building "Cafeteria?" Paul says "Its like being jail before you go to jail")
Driven to his favorite deli for a corn beef on rye, Big Paul gently draws the agents into a conversation about life, about the RICO indictment, about good food and back to the RICO indictment…is it just idle conversation or is he trying to milk the agents for information, or a possible bribe or even just a slip of the tongue that will eventually have the case against him tossed out of court? Or is it nothing more than a coupe of corn beef sandwiches between the guys?
The chapter from the great Irish-American writer/historian, William Kennedy, the sage of Albany, entitled "Legs" from his 1975 novel by the same name on the life of bootlegger Jack "Legs" Diamond. (John Nolan) The writing is flawless of course, this is William Kennedy after all, and the story is catching and well researched, although the actual Kiki Roberts was far more of a air head sans Flapper than the story lets on, still, a good choice by Willis to round out an above average collection of mob tales told by the best.
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