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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
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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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 1999
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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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2012
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2002
T. J. English did a great job of packing 20 years or so of the escapades of a bunch of West Side psychopaths into this book, and bringing it all to a head with their 1987-88 RICO trial. Throw in just enough Hell's Kitchen background from the late 1800's to the 1960's to give one a sense of place, a smattering of contemporary Italian mob activity for perspective, a broad brush sweep of what was happening on the law enforcement side of the Westies' activities, numerous gangster "war" stories, a chapter or two from the criminal lawyers' point of view, even a street map of landmarks from the book, and you've got a mighty fine true-crime read. Sure, some of the stories may be somewhat exaggerated - or even complete fiction - since apparently the lion's share of the book is based on Mickey Featherstone's recollection and testimony, but English doesn't shy away from letting the reader know about Featherstone's proclivity for telling tall tales and his sometimes tenuous touch with reality. It appears that the author took care to research and corroborate what he could. English tells a good story himself, and the tales he recounts have a realistic feel. The only way to improve the paperback version of this book would be to pack in more photos (there are about 20). But I'm not complaining. Read it and enjoy!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2006
I found that this book has value not only as a True Crime text, but also from a sociological perspective. T.J. English gives a backround on the Hells Kitchen nieghborhood and the migrations that caused it to change for the worst. He is fair and unprejudiced, but that might result in the characters being sanitized.

The Westies were a brutal, violent gang, and of that there's no doubt. They dismembered corpses in the bathtub, burned buildings, threw people in the Hudson, among other things. They ran all sorts of criminal rackets in a nieghborhood where the Irish were actually a minority after WWII. By 1965, almost all the people there were Spanish-speaking.

The Westies were full of muscle, but they lacked intelligence, which is why they were only a vassal of the Italian mob. Note the way they "forget" to check on their boss durring what could have been a rub-out. It was replayed in the movie "State of Grace," and while I found the 1990 film "State of Grace" to have been based on this book, I think "Ash Wednesday" is a much better period piece, set in the 1970's Hells Kitchen.

Those of you who want to learn more about crime, gangs, and ethnicity in New York should read this book. It's difficult to relate to because the nieghborhood isn't realy there anymore, replaced by new buildings (the Hells Kitchen locations for West Side Story were all torn down and replaced by Lincoln Center). But if you're looking for the origins of crime in a city (and its demise), this book is extensive, rock-solid and unbiased.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon September 2, 2001
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2006
After fifteen years in publication this book "The Westies" still holds its power. I read it when it came out and was blown away. Reading it again years later I am still impressed with the intimacy and also the historical framework for the story. The book has aged like fine Irish whiskey. Combine"The Westies" together with "Paddy Whacked," another book by T.J. English, and you have the full story of the Irish American gangster that puts these TV shows like "Brotherhood" and "Black Donnellys" to shame.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1999
Being the daughter of one of the characters in the book, I can honestly say that save for a very few technical errors and omissions, the book is totally in sync with the facts. An easy and fast read, I especially appreciated the inclusion of a broad overview of the history of Manhattan's West Side Mafia. T.J. English is to be praised for his thorough research and accuracy. I also laud him for an objectivity rare to be seen anywhere in journalism, written or otherwise. I take this opportunity to thank him for a job well done, as well as reconfirming to me some positive traits about my father, which are a comfort to me now that he's passed on.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2000
This book may be the best true-life mob book ever written. No kidding. What makes it so amazing is that it is both intimate and epic -- intimate in its portrayal of the lives and emotions of Mickey Featherstone and the other main characters, and epic in the way it presents the history and sociaology of the neighborhood and city where they operated. This book reads like a great novel. T.J. English humanizes the story. It's as good or better than "The Sopranos."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2000
I think the book is really interesting reading. It keeps you really involved in the Irish Mob (Westies) One of the reasons I think that it kept me really involved is because I can relate to the book since I am from Hell's Kitchen as a little boy and my family is mentioned in the book on how they killed my dad. It is very sad but true. These guys who were doing the killings all deserve the death penaltly.
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