A by-the-numbers prequel to the rise of Whitey Bulger’s informant-riddled empire.

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BOSTON MOB

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW ENGLAND MOB AND ITS MOST NOTORIOUS KILLER

The sad, true, bloody story of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang.

Somewhat similar in tone to Bryan Burroughs’ Public Enemies (2004), this journalistic and encyclopedic history of New England’s vicious mob wars seems almost an artifact in the wake of Whitey Bulger’s recent arrest—and Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy’s excellent Whitey Bulger (2013). Nevertheless, Songini (The Lost Fleet, 2007) makes an admirable attempt to tie together the lies, myths, facts and legends of the 1960s and ’70s war between the Winter Hill Gang and the McLaughlin brothers’ outfit. It’s a difficult story to piece together—as the author admits in his source notes, his principles for storytelling often had to fall back on the question, “What is most likely?” Much of this history has been examined before in books ranging from biographies of Bobby Kennedy to insalubrious portraits of characters like gang leader Buddy McLean and hit man Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Strangely, Songini chooses to tell his version mostly through the eyes of a relatively minor figure in the organization, albeit a vicious one. The book focuses on Joseph “The Animal” Barboza, a particularly savage killer with scores of successful murders. The author relates the printed details of countless murders, all facts that could have been pulled out of Wikipedia or newspaper archives, and seldom delves into the mechanics of running a syndicate. There are truly absurd moments that surely inspired some cinematic departures—one story finds Flemmi’s brother shooting a victim in the head with a policeman’s revolver. When the officer complained that the bullet was traceable, Flemmi reportedly lopped off the poor guy’s head. It’s a dark corner of American history that deserves to be scrutinized, but it will take more than this surface skim to make sense of the madness of the times.

A by-the-numbers prequel to the rise of Whitey Bulger’s informant-riddled empire.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-312-37363-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

LICENSED TO LIE

EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

A former Justice Department lawyer, who now devotes her private practice to federal appeals, dissects some of the most politically contentious prosecutions of the last 15 years.

Powell assembles a stunning argument for the old adage, “nothing succeeds like failure,” as she traces the careers of a group of prosecutors who were part of the Enron Task Force. The Supreme Court overturned their most dramatic court victories, and some were even accused of systematic prosecutorial misconduct. Yet former task force members such as Kathryn Ruemmler, Matthew Friedrich and Andrew Weissman continued to climb upward through the ranks and currently hold high positions in the Justice Department, FBI and even the White House. Powell took up the appeal of a Merrill Lynch employee who was convicted in one of the subsidiary Enron cases, fighting for six years to clear his name. The pattern of abuse she found was repeated in other cases brought by the task force. Prosecutors of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen pieced together parts of different statutes to concoct a crime and eliminated criminal intent from the jury instructions, which required the Supreme Court to reverse the Andersen conviction 9-0; the company was forcibly closed with the loss of 85,000 jobs. In the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a key witness was intimidated into presenting false testimony, and as in the Merrill Lynch case, the prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, a violation of due process under the Supreme court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision. Stevens’ conviction, which led to a narrow loss in his 2008 re-election campaign and impacted the majority makeup of the Senate, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back; the presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate abuses. Confronted with the need to clean house as he came into office, writes Powell, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to take action.

The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61254-149-5

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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