By Anthony DeBarros, USA TODAY
Unlike The Sopranos or The Godfather, the bodies that pile up in Jimmy Breslin’s new Mafia tale are far too cold to fit some romantic Hollywood notion of the Mob.
So are the killers — two New York City detectives, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa — and the man whose testimony helped convict them in 2006, a Jewish marijuana dealer and Mob associate named Burton Kaplan. Breslin, attending the trial in hopes it would spark a book, finds the idea of killer cops “dreary and charmless.” Enter Kaplan, a federal witness.
“An unknown name steals the show,” Breslin writes, “and turns the proceeding into something that thrills: The autobiography of Burton Kaplan, criminal.”
Kaplan’s testimony is classic gangland drama. Deals go down, money and merchandise change hands. Deals go bad, bodies get dumped in the river or buried beneath a Brooklyn garage.
Breslin knows the territory. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist built a career chronicling New York’s underworld, and his familiarity affords him the luxury of letting large chunks of Kaplan’s testimony drive the story:
“Q: So what was … the essence of the agreement between you and the other parties?
“A: That I would pay him twenty-five thousand dollars, and that he and his associates … would kill the jeweler.”
In between, Breslin’s terse and often acerbic text unfolds the story of how the two cops worked their way into the confidence of the New York Mafia and eventually carried out kidnapping and murder.
One of the most poignant tales arises when the cops don’t supply enough information on someone the Mob wants dead, a guy named Nicky Guido. Breslin paints a portrait of another Nicky Guido, a “good” one, “a celebrity on his block … because of his love for his mother and his honesty with everybody else.”
The cops wanted more money to provide the correct address of the “bad” Nicky Guido.
Instead, a mobster decides not to pay them, takes matters into his own hands and orders a hit on the only Nicky Guido he can find. Guess which one.