The Last Testament of Bill Bonnano by Bill Bonnano and Gary Abramowitz

So immediately upon finishing “Casino”, I wanted more mob so I started in on this book immediately. It was very different from what I was expecting but it was refreshing in a wholly different way.

Joseph Bonnano, Bill’s father, was one of the original men who set up the Commission which, for want of a better description, is the oversight committee for organized crime in New York City. Bill was brought up in this environment and the book focuses on the early days – as told to Bill by is father – and the mob heyday in the 1960’s that Bill himself participated in as a fully made man.

What makes this book so fascinating and a departure is that Bill goes to great lengths to provide the reader with detailed background as to cosa nostra in Sicily and parts of Italy. He covers its roots, how it worked and what it meant to the community as well as showing the time it was brought to the United States by immigrants.

This part of the book is an amazing history and really brought to life those early days and the political and social unrest that made organized crime and protection possible in Sicily and Italy. Like most migrants, they simply brought those traditions with them and re-created the system with an Americanized twist.

The second half of the book goes into deep detail about how the Commission worked, historical decisions that were made and the players involved. The work of OC and the structure has definitely been perverted by media and writers. Not in a malicious way but in an attempt to explain how this secret society operates.

Many myths are dispelled and I often thought about Tony and the guys from The Sopranos quoting and misappropriating ideas from The Godfather movies and other mob staples that have contributed to the myth making. Bonnano sets the record straight and explains that even mob guys, copy from the world of literature and film to add to the mystique.

Finally, and most interestingly, Bonnano describes the ceremonial aspects of cosa nostra. Becoming a “made man”, initiations, meetings and other points of interest. This is the most comprehensive description of these events that I have read. I was hooked with the history but so glad I stayed for the big finale.

For Mob-o-philes, a good pick up!!

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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

I think a majority of us today are trying to figure out what is going on politically and socially and how we got to this place in history. A wonderful independent bookstore in Seattle called Third Place Books has started to recommend a book each month to readers wanting to explore these questions. ”Évicted” was the first of these books.

This book examines renters from different ethnicities, with different issues who are all subject to eviction or have been evicted multiple times. The city being examined is Milwaukee, Wisconsin but the conditions that prevail there, are the same as in most large cities.

The system is definitely set up to benefit landlords and because of that, landlords have become expert at rorting their tenants, making a lot of money doing it and leaving renters in situations where it can be all but impossible for them to recover and receive housing.

In one instance, a landlord buy sub-standard housing, makes cosmetic changes and rents to low income holders who have guaranteed social security, section 8 vouchers or other means that they can exploit. They refuse to fix problems and use non-bonded contractors to do jobs. When a tenant complains or attempts to hold back rent in an effort to remedy the issues, they are often evicted.
It shows tenants being denied housing based on the number of children they have; past evictions; criminal records; credit checks which the poor have absolutely no chance of passing as well as a host of other reasons.

Many of those forced into low income housing have generational poverty they are trying to overcome, criminal histories, poor credit and live hand to mouth. Most of the people in this book spent time at local shelters, sometimes using up all the time a shelter would allow before being forced back into the streets.

Although the book is somewhat depressing, I can say that if you have never been in this predicament, this is a good book to read to gain some insight into one of the areas that we have all become acutely aware of: homelessness. It also gives insight to the mentality of slumlords and how this sub-standard housing fosters poor and ghettoized neighborhoods.

We should be able to fix these problems. But first we need to educate ourselves about what the issues are and then be prepared to acknowledge our role in these issues before we can fix them. It is worth exploring.

Tennison by Lynda LaPlante

I have been on a reading binge with no end in sight. I am currently off my feet and have limited movement so I turned to my first love, books, to provide a mental escape from my physical prison. I also realized that I was “behind” in my goal for number of books read this year and suddenly put pressure on myself to catch up. So for those who follow my blog, expect a barrage!!

I am sure many of you immediately recognize the name Tennison (as in Jane Tennison) as being the main character in LaPlante’s series of books turned to tv shows “Prime Suspect” which stars Helen Mirren. If you haven’t seen it, here is my shameless plug for Britbox. This online service curates all British television and has the whole “Prime Suspect” series available.

LaPlante has gone back to show us how Tennison became the cop and woman we know and love. This is very exciting because it takes us all the way back to the early 1970’s when Tennison was fresh out of the academy and at her first posting in Hackney.

Tennison is still green and in uniform when she becomes seconded to the major crimes unit and becomes involved with unraveling both a murder and an armed robbery. There is only one other woman working with Tennison and she acts as a mentor and sounding board for Tennison.

As usual, she is battling both the villains and the powers that be that believe women should not be part of the argy bargy in police work. As the story opens, Tennison is living with her parents and soon to be married sister in Maida Vale. We get a sense of her family and how they feel about her being a cop as well as starting to glimpse the kind of child she was – and we all know that Jane Tennison must have been a stubborn little so and so!

LaPlante does an amazing job recreating both the neighborhoods and the characters who populate her novels. In Tennison, this is an opportunity to answer all those questions we had about her career prior to the first “Prime Suspect” case that many of us discovered by seeing Helen Mirren inhabit the role.

We also get to see how Tennison started out obsessed with her work and how her personal and professional life often crosses boundaries. One thing I can assure readers is that Jane is as feisty and difficult as ever but we also see some of the things that influence her privately.

After I finished this book, I went and bought two more. Yes, throw your book pillows at me now – it IS a series and therefore, if you are addicted like me, you have more reading in front of you! I am delighted to make the acquaintance of Tennison again and the superb writing keeps the pages turning. Five stars.

Leadbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule

On a personal level, I love this book. On a reviewer level, I think the book needs to be updated and cleaned up a little. I’ll explain.

The gangland wars that took place in Melbourne, Australia between 1994-2004 were in a sense, movements by the next crew to take over and run the Melbourne underworld. This underbelly has a fascinating history and provides some of the background as to the how’s and why’s events unfolded as they did.

The Carlton Crew, who had taken over from the Richmond Crew, were the controlling force in Melbourne throughout the 1980’s. But all underworld stories in Melbourne start with the Painters and Dockers union and it is worth doing a little background because it is fascinating.

This book covers the demise of the Carlton Crew and the rise of “The New Boys”. The book is cobbled together from what was then current crime stories being published in local papers. In some cases, the names have been left out as court cases were still being heard when the book was written.
In that sense, it seems a bit pulpy and also unevenly written. The book also changes stylistically at one point and seems like there was some last minute add-ons to merely fill the book. There is more than enough information to write volumes on the goings on in Melbourne’s underworld so I think the book was pushed out quickly.

Time now then to go back and finesse the book putting in facts, names and other material that had to be left out at first print. If you want to treat yourself to the dramatized stories that the book tells, checkout the Australian series “Underbelly”. There are several seasons which are online or I found on Netflix. It will make the book more sensible. However, it is still great crime stuff that hasn’t been over told in multiple books….yet.

To Funk and Die in LA

I was ecstatic to read another D. Hunter mystery. D is not just an average investigator. He works security for high profile clients, is a sometime music producer and an all around interesting guy.
This time, he leaves his home confines in Brooklyn to head out to Los Angeles. His grandfather has just been killed and D goes out for the funeral, to help his Aunt and young cousin settle the estate and to figure out why his grandfather was killed.

As far as D knows, Big Danny Hunter is just a well known grocer in Crenshaw and one of the last black businessmen in an area that is changing it’s profile. He once owned a nightclub that hosted an array of black performers including one known as Dr. Funk. Think a combination of Prince, George Clinton etc. Dr. Funk is now a recluse and people are trying to find him.

As D delves into why his grandfather was murdered, he finds out more about Danny than he bargained for. Danny, in addition to his business interests runs a loan sharking business and acts as a protector for Dr. Funk. When Funk goes to big Danny’s wake, D’s nephew You Tubes an impromptu performance by the recluse. This puts D in the eye of the storm as people descend on him to locate Funk for a futuristic music project.

After I read the first D Hunter mystery, I was impressed. I hadn’t realized that I had seen Nelson George on Unsung where he frequently guest stars as a music historian. I love how he weaves his musical knowledge into these mysteries and makes it work. It would seem difficult to do but he does it well.

D Hunter is also an interesting character. Not your average PI but at the same time, he has all the hallmarks of one that make them great fodder for the mystery genre. If you haven’t read any Nelson George, do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Finally, a new focus for the spy genre! The Slow Horses referred to ae spies, that turning their training, on missions or for other reasons have been deemed unfit for James Bond style duty and have been farmed out to Slough House to bide their time doing document dumps and other administrivia until their retirement.

River Cartwright, one of the main characters is a particularly bitter slow horse. His grandfather was a big mucky muck in MI-5 and River was set to follow in his footsteps. Now relegated to Slough House, he blames his failure on another recruit who may or may not have had an agenda to get rid of River.

Joining him at Slough House, away from the Regency Park HQ are a variety of interesting failures. His boss Jackson Lamb appears to be merely riding it out. But is he? Slovenly, gross and all around jackass, he might also be brilliant. He knows his spycraft. Ho the technology man, Min Harper the milquetoast, Louisa Guy the angry woman, Struan Loy the office jokester, noisy Kay White and supposed alcoholic Catherine.

Nothing is as it seems though. Not even to the slow horses themselves. A journalist, marginally involved with British Nationalist interests, is tailed by the slow horses in what they consider to be a useless and frustrating training exercise. But is it?

That question is asked constantly throughout the book and it is almost impossible to decipher what is really going on. Based on snoopy Ho, you get one story about why each player has been placed in Slough House. Bu you are also privy to each players personal viewpoint.

The story does unfold kind of slowly – and not in the metaphoric sense. However, wants it gets galloping, it really engrosses you. My only frustration? It ended in a “read the next book to find out” fashion. I hated that. It means I have to read the next one to find out the end of the story. Arrrrrrrghhhhhh!

The Long Count by JM Gulvin

This was a very interesting story. It is set in the late 1960’s. Texas Ranger John Quarrie is a returned vet from Vietnam. He has been called out to travel to another town to look into a crime. Along the way he, comes across a suicide. The town is anxious to close the case but Quarrie believes it is murder not suicide.

The dead man is a WWII veteran and the man’s son, Isaac, has just got back from his third tour of Vietnam and does not believe his father was murdered either. In addition to this, a local asylum for the criminally insane has burnt to the ground and Isaac’s twin half-brother, Ishmael, is missing.
The action from here is full of twists and turns that take place in both Texas and Louisiana. Quarrie is busy running back and forth as well as returning to his home where his young son is being cared for by friends and family as Quarrie is widowed.

The pacing of the book is not hurried which is great because there are a lot of little details to unravel. Even so, there is anticipation and things that pop up that make you consistently re-evaluate what you think you understand about what’s happening.

I read this book reasonably quickly but the print is small in the paperback edition. If you are reading this on your Nook, Kindle or other e-reader, you will have no problem adjusting the font.
A solid 3-4 star thriller and crime procedural.