I hadn’t meant to review these books together but I finished Sacred sooner than I anticipated and it just makes sense to cover them both in one review…
Boss of Bosses
I just finished rewatching The Godfather in honor of its 50th anniversary and I decided to tackle this one because the agents applied the movie title as a sobriquet for Paul Castellano, the mob boss of the Gambino crime family who is perhaps most famous as being the guy in John Gotti’s way that got killed in front of a Manhattan steakhouse.
There’s an abundance of information out there now that shows that mobsters are not the nobless oblige Robin Hood thief-types portrayed by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Most of them are lower class humps who had few options in life and decided to take the path of violence. This was not the common understanding of the mob in New York City in the 80s. Castellano was the biggest boss of the biggest family and yet, he was somewhat regarded as “the Howard Hughes of the mob”, living out of the limelight in his massive Staten Island manor. The mystery only added to the mythos but once you look behind the closed door, you see what was at the end of The Irishman: a broken, sad old man.
The book recounts the FBI’s surveillance of Castellano and some of his cohorts. A lot of the information was covered in other spaces but it’s still a compelling look at how the agents hunted down and developed relationships with the don and others. I didn’t care for the grousing about how hard it is to attain search warrants and affidavits, especially since we’ve seen the FBI play fast and loose with the rules amongst people without high profiles and fancy lawyers, but I enjoyed this one almost in spite of myself. It’s eminently readable and gives a portrayal of a sad man at the head of a futile empire that glitters like gold but which is really just gilded trash.
Another book I enjoyed in spite of itself. As great of a writer as Raymond Chandler was, his indelible influence on the private eye genre was to make every writer who started publishing PI books from the 80s to the aughts have their lead characters be insufferable try hards who never resist an opportunity for a corny quip. Dennis Lehane, like Laura Lippman who followed a similar trajectory, would go on to bigger and better things than his 90s output of Kenzie and Gennaro novels, but his talent is evident even when his characters annoy. I could’ve done without all the UST between the protagonists but the mystery is interesting and Lehane is a quality writer. It works even when it strains.