"In Bed" with Jim Fusilli

Posted by Goodreads on October 31, 2011
As a kid growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, crime writer Jim Fusilli remembers hearing stories and rumors about the local Mafia. His latest novel, Narrows Gate, fleshes out these impressions with a story of three Italian American men—Sal, Leo, and Bebe—whose lives intersect with the crime bosses of corrupt Narrows Gate, New Jersey, (a fictionalized stand-in for the author's hometown) during the first half of the 20th century. Fusilli, a rock and pop music critic for The Wall Street Journal whose previous novels include Closing Time and Hard, Hard City, shares his top five books about the seductive yet destructive power of the mob.

Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow
"In a tale based in part on actual events, the 15-year-old title character observes, with an affecting blend of wide-eyed wonder and street savvy, the inner workings of a criminal enterprise headed by Dutch Schultz. Through Bathgate we come to understand that any code of honor among the gangsters is an illusion."

Legs by William Kennedy
"Told from a distance—45 years after the murder of Jack "Legs" Diamond—the narrator is the gangster's attorney, who views his client as a product of his times and environment. Kennedy imbues the killer Diamond with élan and wit, and while the narrator is sentimental about Diamond and their high times, the author isn't."

The Honored Society by Norman Lewis
"Not a book, but it should be. In February 1964, The New Yorker magazine published a three-part series by Norman Lewis about the power and influence of the Mafia in Sicily. Told in measured tones, the richly detailed story, which is presented over the course of 100 ad-filled pages, is a thorough, extraordinary exploration of the mob. I'm all but certain that Mario Puzo referenced it while researching The Godfather. I did while preparing to write what became Narrows Gate."

The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas
"A remarkable telling of how Joe Valachi, a member of the Genovese crime Family, became the U.S. Mafia's first made man to testify against the mob. The Lyndon B. Johnson Justice Department invited Maas, a much-admired journalist, to make sense of a 1,000-plus-page, first-person manuscript written by Valachi—and then sought to suppress publication of Maas's rendition. The Valachi Papers is Maas' third-person take on the sordid tale. He's under no illusion that the mob is an admirable enterprise."

Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
"We follow Henry Hill in his journey from a 12-year-old runner for members of the Lucchese Family to a drug dealer and eventual witness against his former associates. A seasoned reporter, Pileggi brings to the sordid true story the animated pulse of fiction through his gift, deftly applied, for foreshadowing decline. Like Maas, he refuses to romanticize the Mafia lifestyle. He's particularly effective in showing how anyone who is drawn close to the gangsters' circle will suffer. The theme here is betrayal."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Mafia Books

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