Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Good Rat: A True Story by Jimmy Breslin

Originally posted April 8, 2008

A surprisingly entertaining book considering the topic
Jimmy Breslin has built a story of the Mafia old and current around the court case against two extremely “dirty” cops in the NYPD. Burt Kaplan, working for the Mafia for decades, is the witness; now in his 70s and tired of prison life, he has turned “rat”. Kaplan is, from the book cover in this version “one of the most devastating turncoats of all time”. The court transcripts have a certain fascination which give great insight into the minds of the Mafia. Everything is run like a business, as is fairly well-known, but to hear it in the words of Kaplan, the descriptions of murder, making people disappear, comes across as just a day in the office. He tells everything straight as if describing ordering a meal to be delivered, or shipping a parcel out. Kaplan’s “voice” and Breslin’s style are what make the story so entertaining.

Breslin fills in background between sessions of the transcript with what appears to be the results of interviews through the years. Raised in the same location as the Families, he knew them personally and by reputation. This is what makes the story. He knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful flow between the transcripts and the “normal” lives of the people referred to. He gives us perhaps the most accurate picture of the history from the 1950s to the present of the “families” including their movement from Brooklyn to Staten Island, and on into the final crumbling days of the Dons. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, I thought it would be a lot of blood and guts described in great detail and do not usually read books to do with the Mafia. This book is so unexpected, I’m inclined to read Breslin’s other books on the same topics. I would recommend this book for it’s courtroom interest, it’s historical fact, and it’s entertainment value. Very good.

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