Monday, November 11, 2013

A Pigeon Sings

The Good RatThe Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jimmy Breslin made me an offer I couldn't refuse: a book with mobsters, crooked cops, a turncoat, and a trial in which a stool pigeon sings about the mafia's secrets.

Journalist Breslin made a career of following the mafia, writing of Queens, NY from the street-level. In The Good Rat he writes of the 2006 trial of two police detectives as they are brought down by the testimony of Burton Kaplan, an aging man with thick mob ties, who decided to come clean in hopes of seeing the outside again and spending time with his family before he dies.

As they are described, you can smell the streets and even feel as if you've walked into the mob-frequented bars alongside the writer, who spent much of his time in such joints. But beyond even that, Breslin's real talent is in creating a mind's eye image of these almost larger-than-life characters. I call these real-life men "characters," because what else do you call men with nicknames like Gaspipe, The Clam, Fat Tony and Three-Finger Brown?

The Good Rat masterfully interweaves the trial with NY mafia history, going back and forth to illuminate some time, place or person mentioned during Kaplan's testimony. Conversely, this background info is presented to set up thrilling reveals during the trial.

Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Is a rat ever good? Sure, he's helping to put away some men who did terrible things, but after all, he wouldn't have the information with which to dig their graves unless he himself had gotten his hands dirty.

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