Black Mass


This past week I read Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neil. You might know about this, especially if you lived in New England, but it's really a hell of a story. Basically what happened is that an Irish American Boston-based FBI agent from Southie named John Connolly hooked up with a Irish American Boston-based gangster from Southie named Whitey Bulger, and together they crippled the mafia in Boston, leaving Bulger to rule the streets in partnership with friends in the FBI who protected him and even helped get some people killed.

Then the really wild, can't make this stuff up, part is that the gangster's brother was both pals with the FBI agent in question and President of the Massachusetts State Senate.

Unfortunately, while the authors have a great story to tell, they don't do a great job of telling. They're two of the Boston Globe reporters who helped break this story open originally, and they're obviously formidable reporters. They're not, however, great at narrative pacing or structuring a book. Nor do they have a really good ear for what aspects of the story do and don't require further elaboration and context. Little things -- like the fact that the Boston FBI field office covers all of New England, that the South End and South Boston are different places, etc. -- aren't really explained properly and I wound up needing to look various things up online to really understand what was happening. Ideally, then, one would want to read a different, better book on the subject and I see that there is another one thought I have no idea if it's better.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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