Monday, March 13, 2006
REVIEW: Howies Book....
David Boeri (of Channel 5), writes a review for the Boston Sunday Globe of Howie Carr's book about Whitey Bulger.
(I am not sure how long this will stay up on the web, so for now I am doing the down & dirty cut/paste.)
Looking for Whitey Bulger? Try your bookstore.
By David Boeri | March 12, 2006
NOT LONG AGO, I had the pleasure of tracking down the semiretired Sonny Shields. A grizzled gangster, Shields boasted of how he shot and killed the last of three brothers wiped out by the duo of ''Cadillac" Frank Salemme and Stephen ''The Rifleman" Flemmi back in the '60s-because he had been acquitted of the murder, he was free to talk. ''There's a great book in this," the old gunsel said. He then pulled out a letter he'd written to a publisher, complete with a two-bullet PowerPoint presentation of his other career highlights: ''carried body parts for Vinnie 'The Bear' Flemmi" and ''almost killed Whitey Bulger."
He missed, and so too has the FBI. After 11 humiliating years, the bureau still doesn't have a clue where to find James ''Whitey" Bulger. The last supposed sighting it touted as ''legitimate," in London in 2002, is now quietly considered fictional. Just this week, the US attorney's office betrayed its desperation by releasing a grainy surveillance tape, apparently in the hope that footage of a 51-year-old Bulger will help someone recognize the now 76-year-old fugitive and turn him in.
The feds might have better luck if they checked with their local bookseller. Though Sonny Shields is still awaiting his contract, Bulger is in the aisles of just about every bookstore in Greater Boston these days, where the true crime shelves bend under the weight, if not the substance, of a new subgenre: the Whitey Bulger book.
The most recent entry in the field also happens to be the most interesting and accurate: ''Brutal" (Regan), by Kevin Weeks. Weeks was Bulger's young right-hand man, intimate enough to call the boss ''Jim." Arrested and charged with racketeering a couple years after Bulger fled in December 1994, Weeks rolled on Jim so fast-it took him all of 12 days-that he was dubbed ''Two Weeks" Weeks. His testimony helped the government convict Bulger's FBI handler John Connolly and convinced Bulger's partner Stephen Flemmi to plead guilty. His experiences make for an effective piece of storytelling, and as for ''fact-checking," Weeks's story has been vetted by the State Police, more than one federal bureau, and three juries.
So when Weeks talks about Bulger, he's got the goods and he makes clear the others don't. One of the authors he's accused of multiple errors is Howie Carr, who along with Weeks will be appearing tonight on ''60 Minutes," where both will tell their stories to reporter Ed Bradley. Weeks will reveal that he and Bulger had come close to killing Carr ''because we just hated his column and his inaccuracies," as he put it to me. (He claims once to have had Carr in his rifle sight, but decided against pulling the trigger when the columnist emerged from his house with his daughter in tow.)
Carr's new book, ''The Brothers Bulger" (Warner), is currently being hawked on everything from talk radio to refrigerator magnets. The book will be familiar to the Herald reporters who wrote the newspaper articles he's assembled into what is little more than a clip job repeating testimony of well-covered trials. Even for those who appreciate Carr's irreverence the book is curiously flat, despite being potholed with enough errors to earn entry into his own halls of ''hackorama."
While Carr has committed journalistic crimes, his fellow Bulger authors have committed the real thing. Some were capos in Bulger's mob, others just boyos barely within six degrees of separation. But all have a predatory instinct for an easy score, and are out to make a killing off the iconic Boston crime boss who made his own name in murder, terror, and corruption. If this means rubbing out, or fabricating, a few facts here and there, so be it. Committing fiction comes easily to men who commit murder.
Take, for instance, ''Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Irish Mob" (Steerforth). Its author, Eddie MacKenzie, had the reputation of a notorious taleteller even before he got a book contract. When he was indicted in 2001 for insurance fraud, charged with making up stories of a disabling injury, his first publisher bailed out. Hoping to make his bones as a writer, MacKenzie also claimed he had more than 100 face-to-face meetings with Bulger, though no one ever saw them together. When asked by a Globe reporter for the names of anyone who could verify his meetings, the former boxer said he couldn't remember because ''I got hit in the head a lot."
MacKenzie's biggest detractor is Kevin Weeks, who says MacKenzie never even met Bulger. Yet these two Boswells to Bulger share the same ghostwriter-one Phyllis Karas, whose previous work includes a tell-all book by Aristotle Onassis's private secretary-which tells you what you need to know about the genre. Like mob bosses outsourcing murders to hit men, Weeks, MacKenzie and company have left the dirty work to hired hands.
Bank robber, gunrunner, and Bulger partner in crime Pat Nee, also known as ''Paddy Kneecaps," enlisted a different ghostwriter but the same publisher for his book, ''A Criminal and an Irishman." He tells ''the Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection," a narrowed focus that seems a prudent choice. Were Nee to tell all, he might have had to discuss his role in murders in which he's been implicated by, among others, Kevin Weeks. There's also the matter of the three victims Kneecaps buried in his basement and later dug up for Bulger and Weeks to bury elsewhere. Nee and his ghostwriter have nothing to say on that topic.
Then there's John ''Red" Shea, also a former boxer, leg breaker, and the author of ''Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster." A stand-up guy, Shea never rolled on Bulger, and went to prison instead. While being wiretapped, Shea once told his girlfriend what he'd do to anyone who turned out to be a rat: ''I'd take a chain saw and cut his [expletive] toes off."
Shea never had a chance to visit that punishment on the rat he claims sold him down the river: Whitey Bulger. Instead he's resorted to exacting his revenge through literature.
Whether Bulger got the message, we can't know for sure. It's tempting to imagine the latest Bulger books arriving in a nondescript package addressed to a brooding alias in some remote part of the world. Then again, why would he risk it? He probably knows as well as anyone that what's missing from the Literature of Whitey is Whitey himself. He's the real ghost.