four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The Good RatThe author, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York City columnist, fictionalized the infamous Gallo-Profaci mob war in his 1970 best seller, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Here, he revisits organized crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Burton Kaplan, a 70-something drug trafficker, worked for the Lucchese organized-crime family, carving a figure "out of Dostoyevsky, of the Moors Murders, of Murder Inc." Acting as a middleman between mob underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso and two crooked New York City cops, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, Kaplan set up murders for hire. In 2004, while in prison for drug smuggling, Kaplan (the "good rat") testified against the two policemen-turned-hit men. Breslin, who recounts the trial in this collection of anecdotes and stories, chronicles the mob’s ups and downs through five boroughs, its briberies and acquittals, its drug dealing and prison sentences, and its kidnappings and body dumps to offer a dirge for the Mafia’s last half century—its best days long behind them.
Ecco. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060856661

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Good Rat is full of rich anecdotes of the often mundane (though successful) scams by which mobsters made their fortunes, the tales of stupidity and large living that wiped those fortunes out, and stark trial transcripts depicting savagery more viscerally frightening than any cinematic knockoff of mob life has ever generated." Adam Dunn

Charlotte Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"Breslin has many great tales in his arsenal, and in his rambling, scattershot style he gets around to most of them in The Good Rat (if only, at times, for the duration of a neatly downed shot glass). The gang’s all here, from Crazy Joe Gallo to the Teflon Don himself, John Gotti." Sam Shapiro

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Breslin reveals his toughness, his lack of sentiment, which is, of course, what he admires in Kaplan. For him, it’s not that the Mafiosi were good guys, just that they were honest about who they were." David L. Ulin

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike The Sopranos or The Godfather, the bodies that pile up in Jimmy Breslin’s new Mafia tale are far too cold to fit some romantic Hollywood notion of the Mob. … Kaplan’s testimony is classic gangland drama." Anthony DeBarros

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is Breslin at his Runyonesque best, mixing hard fact with subjective impressions to paint a nuanced and unforgettable picture of a near-mythic group. … [But he] doesn’t go smoothly from Point A to Point B to Point C, building a logically structured narrative." Rebecca Jones

Critical Summary

The Good Rule demythologizes the all-but-glamorous life of organized crime. While Breslin focuses on the trial of the "Mafia Cops," a story also recounted in Guy Lawson and William Oldham’s The Brotherhoods (2006), Breslin, to critics’ delight, uses the case to delve deep inside the Mafia’s demise and the bloody, backstabbing stories within it. An unsentimental writer, Breslin sees the mob for what it is—a group of cold-blooded sheep, to which his inclusion of trial-transcript excerpts attests. Yet reviewers couldn’t help but comment on the author’s somewhat regretful tone, a funeral hymn for an era. Chronological confusion may trip up some readers, but overall, "For true crime fans, The Good Rat is the next standard-bearer; for Breslin fans new and old, it’s a must" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).