Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Whitey Bulger and Pariah


I have to admit I was (for lack of a better word that I can use in a public forum) amused at seeing the rash of South Boston mobster tell-all books that were published in 2006. At the time I had just sold a crime novel, Small Crimes, to the London publisher, Serpent’s Tail, but I’d also been struggling for years to sell one of my books to NY. Although it might have been a bit galling to see the large New York publishers sidling up to these convicted criminals and handing them book deals, I could understand the fascination with all things Whitey Bulger. After all, I shared that same fascination, and I had for years both before and after Whitey became a fugitive, read everything I could about him in the Boston Globe, and listened to all the stories and rumors about him on talk radio. This was a real-life gangster story almost too bizarre for Hollywood—Boston’s most feared gangster being brothers with the State Senate President. And then there would be stories about Whitey’s criminal activities, his extortion methods and murders, and even things like him getting a hold of a winning lottery ticket. And you’d hear stories secondhand from people who had contact with him that were likewise chilling. Once Whitey became a fugitive, it really got interesting as we all found out about Whitey being an informant for the FBI. And not just any informant, but one who corrupted his FBI handlers so he could use them to squash his competition, and worse, get tipped off so he could kill those wanting to testify against him.

So it ‘s easy to see why we were all so fascinated by Whitey and the stories and rumors circulating about him. Seeing those tell-all books in 2006 ended up providing the motivation I needed to write Pariah. In most of my crime novels I dig into the criminal mind and try to understand the psychology of why they do what they do, and at the same time explore the darker impulses we all feel. With Pariah there’s a lot of that, but I also drew upon all the stories and rumors I had read and heard over the years to write a fictional story that would feel like it was imbued with a real sense of history of how Whitey Bulger and his underlings operated. In the novel I have a Whitey Bulger-like character named Red Mahoney, but the focus is on Mahoney’s right hand man, Kyle Nevin, who was betrayed by Mahoney, and now out of prison wants revenge on his fugitive ex-boss, as well as reestablishing himself as a man to be feared. And while it’s a brutal and fierce crime novel, it’s equally a satire on the New York publishing industry and our celebrity-obsessed culture, a culture that’s all too willing to make a criminal into a celebrity if the money’s right.

I was surprised when I saw the story late last Wednesday night about Whitey Bulger being captured in Santa Monica. I’d read about him scattering funds throughout Europe, and I assumed he would live out his days anonymously there or in Southeast Asia never to be heard of again. It just seemed that Bulger was too smart, too clever, and just too lucky to ever get caught. Early reports have Whitey living in a rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica for the last fifteen years instead of in Europe as we all thought, so he fooled us all. But I guess his luck finally ran out, and with his capture a chapter in Boston’s history has closed. Maybe there will be another chapter to add if Bulger confesses to the FBI, or writes yet one more South Boston mobster tell-all book.

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