English (The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge, 2011, etc.) explores the organized crime underworld of Whitey Bulger.
The author has covered similar ground in Paddy Whacked (2005), and it shows in a number of ways, some that enrich the telling of the Bulger saga and some that detract. Bulger was a gangster who moved through the ranks of the Boston underworld to control much of it beginning in the 1970s. With what seemed at the time like a bulletproof coating keeping him safe, he was a formidable foe. After being tipped off to a possible arrest in 1995, Bulger disappeared. Two years later, the world finally learned the secret of Bulger’s near-magical ability to stay in business: he had been an FBI informant for almost 20 years, and the FBI had covered up evidence of his crimes in order to keep him on the payroll. When Bulger was caught in 2011, the question on English’s mind was whether or not the trial would reveal the circumstances that allowed Bulger to flourish. It did not, and the author makes a convincing case that this was a major oversight. He presents solid evidence that the Bulger problem was really an FBI corruption problem and that the world should be far more concerned with the system than just the one man. However, English’s evidence also presents a problem. He is so familiar with Bulger’s story and territory that he does not address the fact that readers may not know the background. This leaves the story of the trial, at least, curiously incomplete. The narrative is inconsistent, with extremely compelling sections alternating with excessively detailed sections that distract rather than add color.
English provides an intriguing angle for hard-core mob enthusiasts or followers of the Bulger story, who will eat it up. Those without prior knowledge, however, may lose interest.