Imagine my surprise when I came across “To Kill The Irishman” by Rick Porrello. “Irishman” is about Danny Greene, a legendary Northeast Ohio mafia associate, who ended up in a few pieces after his enemies decided to explode the car next to where Greene happened to be standing. This book is not new; it was first published in 2004 and written by a former law enforcement official. Here was the kicker—many of the bit characters in the book were names that were, say, familiar, around my grandparent’s house.
Leo “Lips” Moceri, Ronald “The Crab” Carrabbia, and Jack White (real name Licavoli, but called “White” because he was so dark) were all characters in the book. They all were members of various gambling organizations in northeast Ohio. And, they all happened to be guests at my parents’ wedding. All were associates of my great-Grandpa Mike. I think it was because he made a good Sunday dinner.
This book is now a movie, starring Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, and a bunch of other actors who typically show up in mafia movies. It looks violent. And entertaining.
Here’s the recap: Danny was a loudmouth Irishman (not a damn thing wrong with that, thank you very much). He double-crossed some members of organized crime (not a good idea). Greene, who was oddly obsessed with the color green (a Psychology 101 test question), also ratted out his associates and enemies to the FBI. In a comedy of errors spanning several years, the mafia kept trying to “off” Danny. He was finally blown up by a car bomb. Porrello then goes on to theorize that the Danny Greene saga is what eventually brought down the entire mafia structure in Northeast Ohio and then eventually New York. To sell a few more books, he cites two Congressmen, Dennis Kucinich and James Traficant, as loose connections to the fallout from the Greene saga.
That part about the eventual downfall of the mafia was a bit of a stretch. (As they say in The Godfather, “Who’s being naïve, Kay?”) Clearly, the mafia still exists but it is likely far less stereotypical than what we think of when we think “mafia.” And clearly, a number of factors led to the spate of convictions in the 90s and 00s, and Danny Greene was no more the sole cause of that than I was.
I’m betraying my true feelings about this book. Aside from the TMZ factor (it was cool to see mentions of people who were like mafia celebrities to my family), this book was just awful. Remember the old rule for presentations—“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them”? Well, this book instead follows this construction: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them what you are going to tell them, and then sort of tell them what you said you were going to tell them.” It really felt like there was a whole lot of build up for one big literal bomb at the end, and like many mafia books, was short on the details along the way.
Admittedly, many mafia books have this challenge—you have the stories about the murders, the flamboyant characters, the big crimes—but you have very few contemporary accounts of what actually happened. (Indeed, many of the people who could tell the best stories are likely wearing cement shoes or lunching with Jimmy Hoffa.) I guess maybe the only way to fill a book was to fluff it up with some tenuous connections to other mafia groups, and recap the same story over and over again.
The most important lesson here? Italian mobsters are far more interesting than Irish mobsters. I might recommend the movie instead of the book on this one.
Thanks for reading.
Note: I’m a few books behind on the blog—but a preview of what’s to come: “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth; “Then Everything Changed” by Jeff Greenfield; and “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. All three were stimulating in different ways and I’m looking forward to reflecting on them.