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The Good Rat: A True Story Hardcover – February 5, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Breslin, renowned journalist and author of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, revisits a familiar wise-guy milieu in this collection of stories and anecdotes about the mob. His writing, like the Mafia itself, breezily transitions from humorous to horrifying as he regales the reader with loosely connected tales of mistaken identity, crooked cops, snitches and murder. Unlike the Sopranos and the many other touchstones of the American love affair with organized crime, for Breslin, there's good and there's evil, with little in between. As always, however, nicknames are half the fun, as Sammy The Bull Gravano, Tony Café and Gaspipe Casso take the stage in the Mafia hotspots of the five boroughs, including Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, and Ozone Park, in Queens, as Breslin delights with stories from the Mafia's heyday. Breslin's storytelling is set to the sweet background music of one of the mob's biggest canaries, Burton Kaplan, as he sings to a grand jury. The author's vernacular precision contrasts sharply with the plodding sterility of Kaplan's grand jury testimony, and as we find out, good guys can often tell ugly stories more authentically than the bad guys. The effect is tragicomic as Kaplan's testimony sounds the death knell for his associates. These stories unveil the strict code of conduct, often broken, of a dying breed. According to Kaplan, however, while illegal gambling and extortion may be waning industries, the myth of the American Mafia will never die. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Good Rule demythologizes the all-but-glamorous life of organized crime. While Breslin focuses on the trial of the “Mafia Cops,” a story also recounted in Guy Lawson and William Oldham’s The Brotherhoods (2006), Breslin, to critics’ delight, uses the case to delve deep inside the Mafia’s demise and the bloody, backstabbing stories within it. An unsentimental writer, Breslin sees the mob for what it isâ€"a group of cold-blooded sheep, to which his inclusion of trial-transcript excerpts attests. Yet reviewers couldn’t help but comment on the author’s somewhat regretful tone, a funeral hymn for an era. Chronological confusion may trip up some readers, but overall, “For true crime fans, The Good Rat is the next standard-bearer; for Breslin fans new and old, it’s a must” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

The Good Rat Speaks
Jimmy Breslin has an offer you can't refuse. Click here to listen to his message. [mp3]

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060856661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060856663
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,389,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a fine addition to anyone's true crime shelf. You're not going to see a romantic view of mob life here. Tony Soprano might be interesting to have as a neighbor, but the people in this book are such that you'd much prefer that they live in a different part of town, or better yet, a different town altogether. The book does present a rather one-dimensional view of the criminals involved: you will not be reading about the kind of family (personal, not mob) life that helped make Tony Soprano three-dimensional. The figures in the book may have been decent people at home, but that's not the point here.

You'll get a view of current mob life--the violence, the paranoia, the omerta, and the breaking of omerta. Some things have changed from the heyday of Murder, Inc in the 1940s, but much is still the same: plus la change, plus la meme chose. Burton Kaplan today is little different from his counterparts of 50-70 years ago: surveillance and eavesdropping techinques are better, the FBI has discovered the Mafia, and witness protection programs have led to a partial decline in omerta. Where once a stand-up guy could do 5 years in prison, with RICO standing up for 30 years is less appealing. Kid Twist Reles' revelations in Murder, Inc were eye-opening back then: Burton Kaplan's testimony is fascinating, but he has lots of fellow canaries, so to speak.

You'll get a very gritty tale here. These are not nice fellows at all. Some reviews may speak of the contrast between good and evil in the book, but that's not really true. NYC policemen as contract killers is a very unpleasant thought, but it's hardly new (see the book Satan's Circus).
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Format: Hardcover
The author of this fascinating true crime tell-all is none other than the inimitable Brooklyn/Queens/New York symbol of "old-school" mob reporting Jimmy Breslin. The initial core of this story was supposed to be the trial of Lou Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two NYPD cops who performed contract murders for the Mafia, along with providing any type of confidential police "intel" that would benefit the mob. That included making available classified information that ranged from wire taps, which helped the Mafia PERMANENTLY weed out "rats", to addresses of individuals on the "lam", thus enabling the Mafia to find and kill witnesses whose testimony could be detrimental. These cops even kidnapped people behind the guise of their police badge and handed the kidnapped victims over to their gangland executioners.

The trial started on March 14, 2006 in the United States District Court Eastern District Of New York in Brooklyn. On the first day of the trial is when the main subject matter of Jimmy's book changed. The main witness for the government was one Burton Kaplan. Kaplan was seventy-two years old; at the age of thirty-nine he served his first prison sentence of four years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. At the start of this trial he still owed eighteen years to the penitentiary for drug charges. He testified "in simple declarative sentences, subject, verb, and object, one following the other to start a rhythm that was compelling to the jury's ear." On that first morning the author listened with excruciating excitement. "A few words from Kaplan on his Brooklyn porch send animals rushing out to kill.
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Format: Hardcover
Long before "The Sopranos," Casino and Goodfellas, Jimmy Breslin wrote a book in 1970 called THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT that was also made into a movie. It was one of the first fictional looks inside the feared Cosa Nostra, written a year after Mario Puzo penned THE GODFATHER. There might never have been a fictional Tony Soprano if not for Breslin and Puzo.

Breslin knew his subject. He spent many a long night back in the day drinking in mob joints with characters such as Jimmy Burke, who was portrayed in Goodfellas by Robert De Niro. Breslin points out here that a young De Niro consulted with him to find out how to play wiseguys before filming The Gang. It was one of Bobby D's first screen roles before Godfather: Part II.

So who better to cover what was billed as the first great mob trial of the 21st century? Two NYPD detectives were accused of being hitmen for the Lucchese crime family, fulfilling contracts on eight victims. Breslin approaches the trial with a sense of gloom. "And the idea of cops who use their badges to murder depresses me," he writes, "It is dreary and charmless and lacks finesse. It promises no opportunity to marvel, much less laugh."

And then Burton Kaplan, the good rat in this tale, takes the stand to inform on the cops. Breslin observes, "He testifies in simple declarative sentences, subject, verb and object, one following the other to start a rhythm that is compelling to the jury's ear...Kaplan comes out of all the ages of crime, out of Dostoyevsky, of the Moors Murders, of Murder Inc. A few words spoken by Burt Kaplan on his Brooklyn porch sent animals rushing out to kill."

Breslin found his book, as Kaplan tells the court about his life in crime.
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