Black Mass by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill

Black Mass, the true story of a deal between Irish mobsters and their FBI handlers written by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

The South Boston neighborhood has long been considered a poor younger sibling to its swanky northern Boston locales. Long populated by generations of Irish immigrants, ties to the neighborhood run deeper than blood. With the catholic church, schools, and Irish towns of origins being ethnic markers, gangs quickly formed among the neighborhood boys.

As Southie fathers worked long hours at blue collar jobs to support growing families and mothers relegated to the role of homemaker, boys joining gangs became a rite of passage in which they may have experienced more love and attention than they did in their home life. As the middle brother in a family of six children, James “Whitey” Bulger soon found a ‘home’ in Howie Winter’s Winter Hill gang. Quickly rising through the ranks, Bulger’s persona soon grew to legend proportions in his South Boston Irish neighborhood. His charismatic albeit pushy personality caught the attention of many younger kids including one John Connelly. The two Southie natives would be linked for the rest of their long, tumultuous lives.

black-mass.jpgThe authors, Lehr and O’Neill, used a variety of first-hand sources to not only write this book, but to break the entire story in the Boston Globe. What they examine here is basically the true cost of the information provided by Bulger. While he’s giving them good information, he’s also being allowed to literally get away with murder.  However no matter how much researching they did, the writing was not very good,in chapter after chapter they told the same story over and over again, I began to think they were getting paid by word.

The term “black mass” essentially refers to a deal with the devil. In this case it refers to a handshake deal between criminals Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi and their FBI handlers John Connolly and John Morris, with a few others, to do pretty much whatever criminal activity they wanted as long as they fed them some occasional tips on other mobsters.

Book was a bit dry for me, filled with facts and tidbits. I loved the description of how the Irish Immigrants have arrived in Boston after the famine that killed a third of the population and how the community got knit together.

The newly arrived Irish Catholics took immediately to Southie’s grievance list with outside force. Indeed, it became holy writ as the community coalesced around church and family, forming a solid phalanx against those who did not understand their ways. Over the decades since then, nothing had galvanized Southies more than a perceived slight by an outsider who would change The Way Things Are.”

The rest was peppered with a LOT of FBI agents and not enough mobsters. Corruption and money changing hands. Dirty agents and unreliable informers. Solid 2/5.

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