Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Reviews: Killers

Killers
by Howie Carr
If I had realized just who the author was before I picked this book up on a 2 for 1 sale at the local bookstore I probably wouldn't have purchased it. It's always tricky to figure out how much of a book's or fictional characters' worldviews are things that are created by the author separate from his or her own views. Fiction and reality don't necessarily have anything to do with one another. And politics and artistic skill don't correlate either. But there are authors with very strong political or personal views that not only bleed into their creative works, they inspire the creativity in the first place. The view points are the reason for the creative work. They give the author a way to purge himself.

Howie Carr is a Boston area conservative racist radio host and Boston Herald columnist who has played footsie with birtherism, claimed that President Obama was given everything because of his race, and mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren with "Indian" war whoops. Boston has always had a certain reputation for xenophobia and bigotry. Although Carr is not a Boston native, he seems to fit in well. Carr is an expert on New England area organized crime. Famously he attracted the negative attention of Winter Hill gang boss Whitey Bulger, who regretted not murdering Carr when he had the chance.

Depiction is not endorsement as any creative artist would tell you. However, I think that most readers are smart enough to tell the difference between someone who creates racist characters because he's a keen observer of human nature and someone who creates racist characters because he sympathizes with those viewpoints. As a reader there are only so many sentences decrying "a fat female Obama voter yakking on her Obamaphone" or snide asides about uncivilized jungle areas in Boston (Roxbury) that I can tolerate. Killers was right at my limit.


In the post Whitey Bulger Boston organized crime milieu, there are two (white) power centers in Boston. The first major criminal is Salvatore (Sally) Curto, the underboss of the New England Mafia (he still has to answer to leaders in Providence) and supposed boss of all of Boston. The second major criminal is Bench McCarthy. Bench has a fearsome reputation as a killer. Bench has been an ally of Sally's since their prison days together. The two men informally combined their organizations, eliminating or subduing most American competitors. Although Sally is the boss because of his age and Mafia status, the truth is that Bench is tougher and smarter. The two men have a mutual respect, though Bench is under no illusions that Sally sees him as anything more than a useful associate.

When Sally's few remaining capable musclemen are murdered, no one knows who's doing it. Initially suspicion falls on Bench until persons unknown start shooting at him as well. Although Sally's still capable of throwing frightening temper tantrums he's past the point where he could lead bloody retribution in a gang war, if indeed that's what this is. Bench is going to have to take point on this. The other New England criminal powers don't seem to be the ones who are attacking Sally and Bench. Jack Reilly, a disgraced former cop, bagman and current private investigator, has been hired by certain people to find out who's causing the trouble and make it stop. Because he has six degrees of separation with Bench, Jack decides to start his investigation with his fellow Irish-American. Finding answers will take both men through the Boston underworld and upperworld. The upperworld is almost as dangerous as Bench's side of the street. Carr convincingly depicts the greed, corruption and nepotism that is common in the political and media environments. Everyone has a tablet of favors owed, favors paid and how much they cost.

Sally and Bench are painfully aware that they are among the last competent members of their respective ethnic and criminal tribes. They face excessive competition (the daily lottery has killed the numbers and bookmaking rackets) and surveillance from the government. Bench fears that these days just saying boo to someone will get you a RICO indictment. There was too much racial, ethnic and political bile expressed for me to uncritically enjoy this story. But Boston doesn't have the reputation it does for nothing. So YMMV. The story is told in multiple first person POVs. Bench has an ironic sense of humor.
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