MARKED TO DIE by Michael Brown


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A story of the ""fast low life"": the tale of Jerry (Chicken Delight) Festa, who worked his way up from freelance con man (home improvement and roofing scams were his specialty) to fringe organized-crime figure in Newark--then turned government witness to avoid a murder rap, entered the federal Witness Protection Program, and has been looking over his shoulder ever since. Brown, who spent several months in hiding with Festa and his large family (wife, five children, and an aunt), paints a stark portrait of the life of a ""protected"" witness: rapid moves from one run-down rented house to another (including one without a stick of furniture); kids unable to make friends; constant stress and attendant psychological problems; the fear of mob hitmen (there was a $500,000 contract out on Festa); and, Brown suggests, the not-so-farfetched possibility of being ""set up"" by one of the federal marshals supposedly providing protection. Though Festa himself comes across as a wise guy who deserved whatever he got, Brown gives a sensitive accounting of the effect of years of hiding on other members of the family (particularly Festa's aunt, an old-fashioned, religious woman caught up, out of family loyalty, in a mess). Equally good are Brown's snapshots of New Jersey underworld characters: Dominick DeNorscia, known as ""Tommy Adams"" for (they say) once having ripped an enemy's Adam's apple out of his throat; Frank (the Bear) Basto, a ""professional assassin"" who always wore the same trench coat when he did his work; Johnny Quartuccio, a burglar who once shot his wife's dog, sniper-style from a window, while she walked it on the street; and the near-legendary Ray Freda (""one of the most incorrigibly and ingeniously criminal minds in the United States""), who, in one of his lesser adventures, tried to train a monkey to rob bank night-deposit vaults. In all: very solid in the underworld local-color department, and moderately effective in questioning the real level of ""protection"" in the federal Witness Protection Program.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster