An anthology of previously published material on the uniquely savage business of crime as practiced by the organization known variously as La Cosa Nostra, the Outfit, the Syndicate, the Mafia.
Prolific anthologist Willis (Adrenaline 2000: The Year’s Best Stories of Adventure and Survival, etc.) largely avoids the sensationalistic, foam-flecked school of crime-writing (notwithstanding an excerpt from 1973’s purported hit-man-memoir, Killer) in favor of works of sufficient restraint and specific knowledge about the Mob’s closed society to provide the reader with varied perspectives. Among the veteran authors included are Peter Maas, with a section of Underboss in which Sammy Gravano explains with typical self-serving bluster how a real-estate transaction spiraled into a public execution, and Nicholas Pileggi, whose enlightening Casino excerpt details how cold-blooded killers utilize wily frontmen and shell companies to partake in supposedly legitimate industries from construction to gaming. There are also dispatches from the front lines of gangster prosecution, including FBI agent Joseph Pistone’s memoir of infiltration, Donnie Brasco, and Pino Arlacchi’s Mafia Business, an extremely insightful exploration of organized crime’s tribal Sicilian roots. Classic crime fiction is represented by Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (the pivotal scene in which Michael accepts his legacy) and William Kennedy’s bittersweet Legs, which highlights the lifestyle’s greater futility. Ace satirist Bruce McCall imagines a taut intercepted discussion of “Gangland Style” that seems oddly congruent with doomed Gambino chieftain Paul Castellano’s resigned musings on his crumbling empire, recounted by FBI agents Joseph O’Brien and Andris Kurins in Boss of Bosses. “At some point, a real gangster cuts the ties that bind him to the rest of us and to the planet,” Willis notes, and these disquieting narratives confirm this unromantic truth often obscured by our cultural fondness for the perpetrators.
Lots of familiar pieces here, but the variety of Willis’s 13 selections makes for an anthology crime buffs can’t refuse.