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Black Mass: The Irish Mob, The FBI and A Devil's Deal Hardcover – May 30, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the spring of 1988, Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill set out to write the story of two infamous brothers from the insular Irish enclave of South Boston: Jim "Whitey" Bulger and his younger brother Billy. Whitey was the city's most powerful gangster and a living legend--tough, cunning, without conscience, and above all, smart. Billy, president of the state Senate, was a political heavyweight in Massachusetts. These facts alone make for an intriguing story, but as Lehr and O'Neill found out, this was only the beginning.

John Connolly, a rising FBI agent and fellow "Southie," had known the Bulgers since boyhood when Whitey rescued him from a playground fight. After investigating organized crime in New York, Connolly was reassigned to the bureau's Boston office in 1975, and was determined to make a name for himself by relying on his old connections. He succeeded in a big way by lining up Whitey as an FBI informant in an effort to bring down the Italian Mafia--a major coup for both the FBI and Connolly. In exchange, Bulger received protection. Though heavily involved in extortion, intimidation, assassination, and drug trafficking, Connolly's "good bad guy" did not receive so much as a traffic infraction for over 20 years. In time, however, the deal changed, and information began flowing the other direction, with Bulger manipulating Connolly and a small group of corrupt FBI agents to further his nefarious network. The criminals and the lawmen eventually became virtually indistinguishable.

Black Mass expertly details the twists and turns of this complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston's underbelly and its inclusive political machine, as well as exposing one of the worst scandals in FBI history. It's also an examination of loyalty--to family, home, and heritage--and "a cautionary tale about the abuse of power that goes unchecked." As a final favor, Connolly tipped off Bulger that he was to be indicted on racketeering charges in 1995, allowing him time to go on the lam (he's reported to have access to secret bank accounts across the country). He was added to the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" in 1999. --Sharon M. Brown

From Publishers Weekly

A triumph of investigative reporting, this full-bodied true-crime saga by two Boston Globe reporters is a cautionary tale about FBI corruption and the abuse of power. Gangster James "Whitey" Bulger ruled Boston's Irish mob, and his wary collaboration with the Italian Mafia, which he detested, was the cornerstone of the city's balkanized criminal underworld. (His younger brother, Billy Bulger, was the iron-fisted president of the state senate and later president of the University of Massachusetts.) Few suspected that Whitey Bulger and his partner, crime boss Stevie Flemmi, were both FBI informants; their squealing helped the FBI to put a score of mobsters in jail and wipe out the Angiulo crime family. Here O'Neill and Lehr (Pulitzer winner and Pulitzer finalist, respectively, and coauthors of The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family) maintain that overzealous FBI Agent John Connolly, who was Whitey's handler, and Agent John Morris, Flemmi's handler, "coddled, conspired and protected the mobsters in a way that for all practical purposes had given them a license to kill." FBI agents looked the other way while Bulger and Flemmi went on a 1980s crime spree that, according to witnesses, included extortion, bank robberies, drug trafficking and a string of unsolved murders. This complex, dramatic tale climaxes with a 1998 federal hearing that found that Connolly and Morris had essentially fictionalized FBI internal records to downplay the stoolies' crimes while overstating their value to the Bureau. In 1999, a grand jury probe launched by Attorney General Janet Reno led to Connolly's arrest on charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice (he's now out on bail). Also named in the indictment were Flemmi, already arrested by state police in 1995, and Bulger, now a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. This in-depth look at the FBI's war against the Mafia includes the first-ever secret recording of a Mafia induction ceremony, complete with pricking of fingers and blood oaths. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Public Affairs Press (DC) (May 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1891620401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620409
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I couldn't put it down; a real page turner.
If you're going to read only one book on Whitey Bulger's and Stevie Flemmi's strangle hold on the Boston rackets, this is the one.
Anthony Bruno
The story is very interesting, but the strength is in it's characters.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
At first it seems like pure fiction: One of Boston's most notorious mobsters, who also happens to be the brother of one of Massachusetts' most powerful politicians, spends more than a decade as a secret informant for the FBI. And, using his informant status as a shield, he grows his criminal empire and commits just about every crime on the books, including murder. As incredible as it sounds, it's all true and it's all here, and it's better than fiction. This is a powerfully written narrative by two prize-winning investigative reporters who covered the story and revealed some of its most dramatic elements. By combining their powerful reporting skills with rich writing flair, Lehr and O'Neill bring readers into the heart of darkness. They show how a relationship that began among children in the housing projects of South Boston evolved into a corrupt deal among dangerous adults that ultimately humiliated the nation's top law-enforcement agency and extended the reign of some of the very mobsters the FBI was supposed to eradicate. The book moves seamlessly from the streets and storerooms of Boston, to the corridors of political power, to the ornate federal courthouse where the deal comes crashing down.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Black Mass" is the chilling account of how two killers from South Boston were able to manipulate the FBI for a period of decades. James"Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi were legendary wiseguys in Boston during the 1970s. John Connolly a childhood acquaintance of Bulger's who made good and joined the Boston FBI. When Connolly hooked up with the tough guy from his old neighborhood things began to go awry.
Connolly was awed by his friendship with Bulger and used his contact in the underworld as proof of his prowess as an agent. For their part Bulger and Flemmi were able to pass along innocuous mob gossip to the Feds in exchange for protection form local law enforcement. Carefully placed tidbits of information helped the FBI to arrest enemies of the Bulger gang. With each arrest Whitey and Flemmi were able to expand their own power base. Those people who complained to the police were inevitably redirected to the FBI. Once the bureau had its hands on a case, the stonewalling began. This was a cycle that continued from the late 60s up until the mid 90s. During this period the `invaluable informants' provided little of substance to their `handlers'. However the agents were able to cook the reports and win commendations and promotions for themselves. At the same time, over a dozen murders are directly attributed to the pair.
If there is honor among thieves you can't prove it from this book. "Black Mass" is a shocking story of deceit and corruption within Boston law enforcement, politics and organized crime. It is almost impossible to describe the level of hubris on the part of the crooks who were protected by the FBI and those very agents who cosseted the killers in order to advance their own careers.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mcgivern Owen L on September 6, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The plot of "Black Mass" revolves around a fateful decision by the Boston FBI concerning the so-called Irish Mafia of South Boston and its infamous boss-the notorious James "Whitey" Bulger. The FBI was so eager to break up the local Italian Mafia that, for years it used Whitey as a confidential informant. Was there a payback? There certainly was: Whitey was allowed to run his bookmaking, loan sharking, shake downs and other criminal activities without serious interference from law enforcement. Were there "complications"? There certainly were: Apart from obvious slippery morality behind the FBI operation, certain local agents get "slightly too cozy" with Whitey and his right hand man, Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi. There is a great nickname! I won't divulge what happens but suffice it to say that a sharp eyed-or was it sharp eared? -Defense attorney unravels the deal. Is justice ultimately done? The reader will just have to find out by him or herself! Fair warning: the epilogue fails to tie up all loose ends. BM reads as if it were two stories. The early going is uneven, choppy and routine. Then BM finds its' stride and develops into fine true crime reading. Perhaps that was due to dual authorship or dual editing. The end result is ultimately satisfying. BM is an excellent example of the dangers of good intentions (stopping the Italian Mafia) unraveling into a its' own sinister crisis and creating its' own maelstrom of crime. BM is a 5 star work, but with one star subtracted for the weaker early stages. Boston residents can quite easily add back the 5th star. True crime devotees living in eastern Massachusetts should love this one.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book rips the door off its hinges on the back-room deals struck by the FBI's John Connolly and Whitey Bulger. The great lengths that Connolly went to cover Whitey's track will make your stomach turn. The writers capture that sense, back it up with hard evidence, and invite the reader into that dark place where the line between good and evil merge.
O'Neill and Lehr have beaten everyone to the punch on a story that has never been told and will shock the senses. Black Mass is destined for greatness and is a book that was made for the big screen.
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