5.0 out of 5 starsJoe Bruno Makes You an Offer You Can't Refuse
28 August 2015 - Published on Amazon.com
NOTE: Previously, the author graciously provided me at different times with copies of the three books that comprise this set and asked me to review the individual titles. He did not ask me to review this boxed set, but I did rely on my earlier reviews in composing this review of the set.
Since I've been reviewing books and other products on Amazon the last two years, I've had the opportunity to read several books by Joe Bruno, a native New Yorker who has made the mob and the underworld his passion. He's probably written 20 or more books that are available on Amazon in which he takes a look at the crooks and gangsters who plied their trades in the Big Apple from the early 1800's up to the present. All of these books have been meticulously researched (I don't know how Joe finds the time to dig up all these source books, magazine articles, newspapers, and internet material), and Joe usually manages to dig up the most colorful and bizarre of details, often on some very obscure characters.
Colorful is also the word to describe Joe's writing style, which contains a lot of interesting turns of phrases and doesn't correspond to any style book I've ever heard of. Joe's books don't read like scholarly treatises but rather like the kind of stories an older relative would tell the kids when reminiscing about his earlier days. Joe's storytelling generally seems to improve from book to book as he takes on better known subjects and devotes an entire book to a single infamous personage rather than a chapter or two. Joe still has his colorful phrasings, but his figures of speech usually support the mood of the story and help move it along.
The current collection is somewhat surprising because only one of the books deals with a New York mobster, the 60's man about town Crazy Joe Gallo. In the other two books Joe goes up I-95 a couple of hours to Boston where Whitey Bulger held sway for a couple of decades and out to the great midwest (and back in time some 80 years or so) to the outlaw days of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
"Bonnie Parker" tells the story of Bonnie and Clyde from their childhood days through the various crimes that the teenage Clyde got himself involved in (and occasionally did time for) to his teaming up with Bonnie, his brother Buck and various others who came and went as part of what's known as the Barrow Gang. The events Joe portrays in the book prove the point about truth being stranger than fiction, and people who take the movie portrayals of Bonnie and Clyde's crimes to task for being exaggerated will get a better appreciation for just how deadly the pair and their gang were. There are a number of shootouts, armed robberies, prison breaks, and car chases in the book, all of which really happened, with bullets flying all over the place (neither the crooks nor the cops were the best of shots). The incidents in this book rival those in any fictional gangster movie, past or present. Bonnie and Clyde were dangerous psychos, as the book clearly depicts, but they also could be magnanimous on occasion with the hostages (including police) they took. There's also some humorous anecdotes in "Bonnie Parker" as well, such as the one in which Clyde and a couple of his confederates drive from Texas to Minnesota to rob a bank, decide it's too cold up there, and then drive back to Kansas to rob one in a warmer location.
"Whitey Bulger" tells the tale of one of America's most brazen and successful mobsters. For three decades or more, Whitey Bulger was perhaps the most vicious of them all. In many ways, his blood soaked rags to riches story parallels those of the other lowlifes about whom Joe Bruno has written over the years, but three things make Whitey stand out from the crowd. First, he managed to disappear for nearly 16 years, during much of which he was Number Two on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, behind only Osama bin Laden. Second, unlike many mob higher ups, Whitey enjoyed dispatching a lot of his victims personally, often literally getting his hands dirty or bloody in the process. And, perhaps most amazing of all, he pulled off much of his killing spree, while working for the FBI as supposedly its most reliable informant in the City of Boston. Joe recounts Whitey's entire life story, including his remarkable decades long relationship with the FBI, during which time he was more effective at bribing and corrupting FBI agents than helping catch fellow mobsters. As a bonus, when Joe runs out of things to say about Whitey himself, he adds some other fascinating stories such as a retelling of the two best known escape attempts from Alcatraz (where Whitey was incarcerated in his younger days).
Unlike the mob bosses Joe Bruno talks about it many of his books, "Crazy Joe Gallo" could probably best be described as "middle management" in the mob hierarchy, never actually heading a family but being heavily involved in the mob politics in New York City, which in those days often settled rivalries with bullets. He also had considerable cojones, actually kidnapping some of the gang's rivals to try to bolster their fortunes. However, unlike others who shunned the limelight, Gallo became a celebrity of sorts, hobnobbing with some of the A-listers of his day. Unlike many gangsters, Gallo was quite intelligent and well read and did a pretty good job of using that education to play politics, especially when doing time on racketeering charges through much of the 1960's. Bruno doesn't limit himself to a discussion of Gallo either; he makes interesting side treks into the lives of some of the other mobsters of the day, most notably Gallo's bitter rival Joe Colombo. It was Colombo's public assassination (he actually went into a coma for several years before his death), which was blamed on Gallo, that wound up setting off another gang war that culminated in Gallo's own death. One of the most interesting sections in "Crazy Joe Gallo" details Colombo's attempts to strongarm the producers of the film, "The Godfather" to tone down some of the anti-mob references in the movie. As a film buff myself, I was fascinated to read about real gangsters putting the pressure on real movie producers who are making a film which has as its best known scene a memorable depiction of fictional mobsters putting the pressure on a fictional movie producer.
Joe Bruno actually has a personal connection with Joe Gallo that may have shaped his choice of topics in his writing career. On the night Gallo met his demise at Umberto's Clam House, apparently a pretty good restaurant of the day, a young Joe Bruno had dinner there several hours earlier. Regardless of whether Gallo was Bruno's inspiration or not, it's clear that Joe Bruno is one dedicated and inspired crime writer. I've had some quibbles with Joe's writing style, both in these books and his earlier ones, but no one seems to have both an eye for the colorful details that make these crooks come to life on the page and the patience and determination to uncover those details like Joe Bruno. These are three of Joe's best books and the added benefit of having them available at a discounted price in a box set makes this collection easily worthy of a five-star rating.