Black Mass

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9780060959258: Black Mass

John Connoly and James "Whitey" Bulger grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the mid 1970's, they would meet again.  By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob.  What happened next -- a dirty deal to being down the Italian mob in exchange for protection for Bulger -- would spiral out of control, leading to murders, drug dealing, racketeering indictments, and, ultimately, the biggest informant scandal in the history of the FBI.

Compellingly told by two Boston Globe reporters who were on the case from the beginning, Black Mass is at once a riveting crime story, a cautionary tale about the abuse of power, and a penetrating look at Boston and its Irish population.

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Review:

In the spring of 1988, Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill set out to write the story of two infamous brothers from the insular Irish enclave of South Boston: Jim "Whitey" Bulger and his younger brother Billy. Whitey was the city's most powerful gangster and a living legend--tough, cunning, without conscience, and above all, smart. Billy, president of the state Senate, was a political heavyweight in Massachusetts. These facts alone make for an intriguing story, but as Lehr and O'Neill found out, this was only the beginning.

John Connolly, a rising FBI agent and fellow "Southie," had known the Bulgers since boyhood when Whitey rescued him from a playground fight. After investigating organized crime in New York, Connolly was reassigned to the bureau's Boston office in 1975, and was determined to make a name for himself by relying on his old connections. He succeeded in a big way by lining up Whitey as an FBI informant in an effort to bring down the Italian Mafia--a major coup for both the FBI and Connolly. In exchange, Bulger received protection. Though heavily involved in extortion, intimidation, assassination, and drug trafficking, Connolly's "good bad guy" did not receive so much as a traffic infraction for over 20 years. In time, however, the deal changed, and information began flowing the other direction, with Bulger manipulating Connolly and a small group of corrupt FBI agents to further his nefarious network. The criminals and the lawmen eventually became virtually indistinguishable.

Black Mass expertly details the twists and turns of this complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston's underbelly and its inclusive political machine, as well as exposing one of the worst scandals in FBI history. It's also an examination of loyalty--to family, home, and heritage--and "a cautionary tale about the abuse of power that goes unchecked." As a final favor, Connolly tipped off Bulger that he was to be indicted on racketeering charges in 1995, allowing him time to go on the lam (he's reported to have access to secret bank accounts across the country). He was added to the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" in 1999. --Sharon M. Brown

About the Author:

As a reporter for nearly two decades for the Boston Globe, Dick Lehr won numerous journalism awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A professor of journalism at Boston University, he is coauthor of the Edgar Award-winning Black Mass, the Edgar Award finalist Judgment Ridge, and The Underboss. He lives near Boston with his wife and four children.



Gerard O'Neill is the editor of the Boston Globe's Spotlight Team, one of the nation's top investigative reporting units. He started at the Globe in 1966, and has won a Pulitzer Prize, the Hancock award, the Loeb award, and many others. He is the co-author of The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family and Black Mass. Black Mass won the MWA's 2000 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.

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