The account of an Italian-American police officer whose friends included both law enforcement officials and “wise guys” in 1960s-era New York City.
The NYPD was no stranger to corruption in the mid-20th century, but this book places a different spin on that infamous scenario. Growing up in Harlem, Michael Palermo befriended many neighborhood kids who went on to fill a who’s-who list of prominent Mafiosi. Choosing the straight-and-narrow path for himself, he nonetheless retained relationships with his old pals even as he rose through the police ranks to become a narcotics detective. Cagan (The Chrysalis Connection, 2005) details this delicate balancing act by showing how Palermo navigated Mafia-run establishments as well as police hangouts, ultimately welcoming both elements to a christening party for his daughter (a thinly veiled Ray Charles, whom Palermo claims to have helped kick heroin, makes an appearance here to sing a few tunes). Punchy dialogue, visceral scenes of violence and gruesome factoids about the mob’s propensity for burying victims in dumping grounds throughout the Tristate area initially keep the narrative moving. However, the book often reads more like a movie treatment than an examination of its subject, and the haphazard editing makes for some rocky patches, especially in the lengthy opening sections. The Synopsis, Preface, Introduction, Flash Forward and Introspectus (an overwrought account of the Rolling Stones’ concert at Altamont, which has little to do with the rest of the story) ramble on for 36 pages before the first chapter even begins. Court transcripts further bog down the momentum, with verbatim trial jargon replacing action and sentiment often trumping the trickier ramifications of Palermo’s decision to honor his “two families.”
Will interest Mafia aficionados, but too scattered and heavy-handed to find a wider audience.