We’ve officially reached the book on this year’s reading list that I am least likely to have ever picked up on my own. What can I say? I really don’t give a shit about gangsters and feds trying to out-swagger each other.
The Book: Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill
First impressions: For several decades, the Boston branch of the FBI had an unofficial deal with notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, wherein he pretended to be a helpful informant, and they kept him out of basically all legal trouble. Black Mass chronicles the evolution and outcome of that relationship, over the course of 600 some-odd pages. Is it interesting? Well, the history is, if you’re into mafia gangster type stuff, and the corruption demonstrated in the story is absolutely shocking. But the book itself loses much of that steam by burying everything in what has to be one of the worst laid-out book outlines I’ve ever seen.
The story progresses more or less chronologically, but there are so many side characters and throwback references to one-off mentions that you get lost just trying to keep the narrative straight. It’s like the dudes writing this book forgot how much research it took to collect all of this information, and then just assumed they could throw around names and operation codes and the reader would know what all of it meant. It’s really hard to follow, and there’s also about 50% more content than there needs to be. Seriously, dudes, cut the fat.
Add to that the fact that one of the authors takes a whole chapter to talk about his own personal involvement in the history of the Bulger gang, which is awkwardly written in third person, and you can go ahead and color me unimpressed. You’d think journalists would be good at cutting to the heart of a story, but this book just buries it.
Also I don’t know why it has that title, as it has nothing to do with anything. Melodrama, I guess?
Will it adapt?: Nope. The whole appeal of the book is that it’s a true story and it gets into the nitty-gritty of the lives of these gangsters, but when you really look at it…they didn’t do much that was exciting. There’s very little here that will translate well to a screen. It’s going to be a lot of men making tense phone calls, glad-handing over home-cooked Italian food, and swearing at each other inside Cadillacs. You’ve seen this film before and you’re bored of it already.
Should I read it?: If you’re a history buff with a thing for gangsters, sure. Knock yourself out. For a casual reader, though, absolutely not. Waste of time and energy.
“The legendary Whitey Bulger: skinny, taut, and tough looking, with the full head of lightning-blond hair that inspired cops to nickname him Whitey, even if he hated the name and preferred his real name, Jimmy.” -WHY ARE YOUR SENTENCES SO AWKWARD
This post is part of my I Read It First series.