From the former police bureau chief of the New York Times, a vital, incendiary epic of crime, cops, and corruption in New York City.
Kocieniewski brings insider knowledge and a flair for untangling complicated strife-ridden investigations to a shocking tale that began with the 1992 death of fire department lieutenant Thomas Williams in an arson clearly perpetrated by Jack and Mario Ferranti, vicious small-time mobsters in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. Investigators placed an aggressive young undercover detective (here provided the pseudonym Vincent Armanti) into the local criminal milieu. He quickly infiltrated the Ferrantis’ shabby crew, but learned that a local police officer, John K. Wrynn, had grown up with the gang and was beholden to them. Wrynn’s father was an inspector with Internal Affairs, making both nearly untouchable. The volatile Armanti refused increasingly coercive hints to taper off as he attempted to ensnare the Ferrantis’ underlings in drug sales, wearing a wire to compromise men who’d likely kill him if his ruse were detected. When it became clear that the younger Wrynn was tipping off his mobbed-up boyhood chums, what started as an investigation into a firefighter’s death became a political football, with Armanti’s team caught between Inspector Wrynn’s interference and the Mollen Commission, then attempting to rein in IA. After Armanti’s identity was compromised, he attempted to goad the Ferrantis’ arsonist into a violent showdown; instead, the Ferrantis were convicted in a raucous trial marked by witness tampering and tension as Armanti “named names” under oath. Kocieniewski’s wry, straightforward prose captures the moody desperation of a city reeling from crack-related violence and police scandals, as well as the tenacity of old-school organized crime in New York’s less glamorous neighborhoods. He also paints a disturbing picture of IA compromising investigations and impeding straight-arrow cops in order to protect officers like the Wrynns, affiliated with the department’s so-called “Brass Wall.”
Old-style urban drama: hard to put down, and probably the best look into the NYPD since, well, James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto’s NYPD (2000).