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The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob [Kindle Edition]

T. J. English
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A decades-long saga of murder and betrayal on Manhattan’s gritty West Side

It’s men like Jimmy Coonan and Mickey Featherstone who gave Hell’s Kitchen its name. In the mid-1970s, these two long-time friends take the reins of New York’s Irish mob, using brute force to give it hitherto unthinkable power. Jimmy, a charismatic sociopath, is the leader. Mickey, whose memories of Vietnam torture him daily, is his enforcer. Together they make brutality their trademark, butchering bodies or hurling them out the window. Under their reign, Hell’s Kitchen becomes a place where death literally rains from the sky.
When Mickey goes down for a murder he didn’t commit, he suspects his friend has sold him out. He returns the favor, breaking the underworld’s code of silence and testifying against his gang in open court. From his testimony comes this incredible story of what it means to make it in a world where murder is commonplace.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hell's Kitchen, a section of Manhattan west of Eighth Avenue between 34th and 59th Streets infamous for poverty and gang-related crime which dates back to the 19th century, was taken over in the late 1960s by the "Westies" mob. The name--used by the press and the police, not by the mobsters themselves--designated a group of ruthless and vicious hoodlums, led by Jimmy Coonan and Francis (Mickey) Featherstone, who cut up the bodies of victims to dispose of them more readily. Once in power, Coonan caused considerable grumbling in the mostly Irish gang when he allied his men with the Gambino crime family. Next, Coonan arranged to have rival Featherstone charged with a murder; found guilty, he became a witness against the Westies, joined by other gang turncoats. In early 1988 Coonan and several of his henchmen were convicted of assorted crimes and imprisoned. English, who covered the trial for the Irish Voice , ably traces the Westies' rise and fall. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Irish-led criminal gangs have a long history on Manhattan's West Side (formerly known as Hell's Kitchen), the latest being "the Westies," seven of whom were recently convicted of racketeering and murder charges. Based primarily on the testimony of feared mob enforcer Mickey Featherstone, portrayed here rather sympathetically, journalist English dramatically re-creates the Westies' violent tale. Less organized and more small-time than the Mafia--only top gangster Jimmy Coonan really prospered--the Irish mob was no less vicious. An attempt to frame Featherstone on a murder charge led to the gang's demise. This is a harrowing account of big city crime. Recommended. Doubleday and Literary Guild alternates.
- Gregor A. Preston, Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1063 KB
  • Print Length: 538 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0553819569
  • Publisher: Road; 1 edition (November 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0063KUGYG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,733 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spellbinding tale January 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Westies controlled the West Side of Manhattan, known as Hell's Kitchen (currently Clinton). TJ English takes us through a history of the Westies, primarily as a personal history of several of the main characters. Of these characters, Mickey Featherstone was perhaps the most interesting.

There is no doubt Featherstone was a nasty sort-you certainly didn't want to be on his bad side. But he also had some interesting touches that made him a very complex and multi-dimensional character. If I had to characterize him, he was sort of a anti-Shakespearean hero...a man who is basically evil, but with a tragic "good" flaw.

I won't spoil the excitement of the book by revealing too many details, but English does a very credible job of relating the trials and tribulations of Featherstone, fellow gangster Jimmy Coonan, and a host of other mostly despicable characters.

The Westies were a loose organization-even their name came from the newspapers-but were a constant target of organized crime investigators. The book ends with the virtual elimination of the Westies as a gang, although Realtors and Developers may have been as much responsible as cops and prosecutors.

There is a fair amount of blood and gore in the book, but while somewhat graphic, is not overly sensationalized or highlighted. The book is easy and almost "fun" to read. I found myself actually "rooting" for Featherstone, as his character does create sympathy and empathy, despite his obvious character flaws.

So if you are a fan of crime history, especially relating to NYC or organized crime, you will enjoy this volume.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling Tale of Brutality and Treachery December 7, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
First lets get one thing straight. The movie and book "Sleepers" has been proven to be fiction with a little bit of fact mixed in. Those two criminals in it were based on a composite of other Westies. This book is the real deal. It tells the frightening story of one of the most vicious group of thugs who ever walked the streets of New York (the other being the infamous DeMeo crew- see the book "Murder Machine"). The only fault I have with this book is that the author sanitizes Mickey Featherstone a little too much. Retired Detective Joe Coffey who busted Featherstone said it best about him on 60 Minutes "You wouldn't want to get into an argument with him (Featherstone) over a parking space." As other reviewers have previously mentioned, the Westies (and that was never really their name - they were known as the Coonan Crew) were long on muscle and short on brains and too many of them wound up as drunken drug addicts. They also lacked the organization and the tradition that the Italian mob families had - which helped lead to their early demise. This book is a great companion book to the previously mentioned "Murder Machine" as there are a cross over of many of the characters from one book to the other. Roy DeMeo like Jimmy Coonan and Coonan's feared sidekick Eddie "the Butcher" Cummiskey, specialized in dismembering the corpses of people who ran afoul of him. It was DeMeo who negotiated the alliance between the Westies and the Gambino's. English doesn't go to far into the Coonan-DeMeo relationship though only to refer to him as "a feared mafia enforcer." The story of the meeting in Brooklyn's "Tomasso Restaurant" between Paul Costellano and his goombahs and Jimmy Coonan and Mickey Featherstone as told in both this book and "Murder Machine" would be hysterical if it wasn't so murderously serious. A great read for a rainy Saturday morning and for people with strong stomachs.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, astonishing book January 29, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I thought this book was very well written. While the story focuses on the Hells Kitchen Irish Mob in the 70s and 80s, it reviews the history of racketeering on the west side of Manhattan going back to the earlier part of the 20th century. A story spanning that much time and history seems difficult to organize, but English did a great job. Also, the sheer amount of characters could be baffling, but English does a good job of reminding you who is who throughout the book.

Aside from the technical way the book was written, the story that is actually told is absolutely fascinating to me. It is difficult to imagine how people like Jimmy Coonan and Eddie Cummiskey could actually exist in real life. I would often read this book on the NYC subway and would regularly find myself wincing in disgust or gasping in horror at the violence these guys committed without batting an eyelash. One problem I had was that I think English paints Mickey Featherstone too much as an innocent victim of his surroundings and own psychological issues. That dude was a cold-blooded murderer.

As a lawyer, I also found the parts of the book covering the Westies' various trials and the defense lawyers' and government's approaches to those trials to be particularly interesting. The descriptions of the investigations of the New York police and various federal agencies is also interesting.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Real Life Mob Book September 2, 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Those who get a little too wrapped up in "The Sopranos" should read books like "The Westies" every now and then just to remind them of what havoc real life organized crime can inflict. The book chronicles the rise and fall of the Irish gang of the same name that was every bit as bloodthirsty as John Gotti's more famous crew. The gang occupied New York City's since regentrified Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. Mystery author Lawrence Block effectively used the Westies lore in creating the character Mickey Ballou in the Matthew Scudder private detective series. The fictional Ballou could be Jimmy Coonan or Mickey Featherstone, the real life chieftans of the gang, who were known for dismembering victims and dumping their bodies in the East River.
"The Westies" is a brutally violent story and one that makes good reading for anyone who likes real life organized crime stories. The prose and the reporting are a cut above average for this type of book.
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More About the Author

T.J. English is a noted journalist, screenwriter, and author of the New York Times bestsellers Havana Nocturne and Paddy Whacked, as well as The Westies, a national bestseller, and Born to Kill, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. He has written for Esquire, Playboy, and New York magazine, among other publications. His screenwriting credits include episodes for the television crime dramas NYPD Blue and Homicide, for which he was awarded the Humanitas Prize. He lives in New York City.

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