Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family

Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi

It's impossible to review this book without mentioning Goodfellas, the movie it spawned. And since the movie has now been mentioned, let's move on.

Wiseguy is the life story of Henry Hill, a half-Sicilian Brooklyn boy who became what he always wanted to be: a mobster. A wiseguy. Over his criminal career, he rubbed elbows with the worst hoodlums in the Mafia Mecca of New York. He stole, cheated, schemed, scammed, and busted heads alongside made men.

Contrary to popular belief, working for the Mob is much harder than holding down a nine-to-five. Wiseguys are always on duty. For thirty years, Henry Hill was always on the lookout for the next big score. He describes the elaborate thefts and cons with relish, but the message is clear: it ain't as easy as it looks. And in the end, when the cops had all the information they needed to put him prison until the Resurrection, Henry Hill made a deal - he entered the Federal Witness Protection program and testified against his former partners.

Wiseguy is a fast read, if you are at all interested in the subject matter - I knocked it out in a day. The writing is tight, the pace is swift, the language is authentic. You don't want it to end.

But end it does, right where the movie does, with Citizen Hill living in the suburbs like an ordinary schnook. The roller coaster comes to a halt and the credits roll, and a darned good book is finished.

But wait, there's more!

The rest of the story is not as much fun, so it's not covered in the book. Hill was kicked out of the Witness Protection program after just a couple of years. He has been in and out of trouble, mostly due to drugs and alcohol, ever since. For a guy who was in fear for his life, he keeps a high profile. He's always on TV or radio somewhere, sells tie-in products over the internet, owns restaurants. He's in the American Gangster Museum. If the Mafia has such a long memory, why is he still alive?

The guys he sent to prison are mostly dead, so maybe nobody has a beef with him. Maybe the Mob has gotten kinder and gentler.

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