All of a sudden the Mafia is back in vogue.
Of course, we all know there is no such group. Still, "The Sopranos" regenerated interest in this faction. The adventures of those wacky mob guys on HBO has created a cottage industry for the entertainment industry. And let us not overlook the success of Analyze This, the gangster comedy starring the always entertaining Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro (whose angst-ridden character might have been the basis for Tony Soprano). Just what we needed after the hiatus of Godfather movies. Waddya know, crimes does pay.
Enter Jimmy Breslin, the bulldog columnist for numerous Big Apple tabloids. Calling upon his decades of experience in dealing with New Yorkers of all stripes, he has written I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JAIL, a "family" novel.
According to the book's blurb, this is supposed to be the story of the nephew of a notorious crime lord who decides the way of the gun (and the knife and the garrote) is not for him. The title keeps coming up, uttered by various characters at certain junctures. Unfortunately, the story falls apart, like a stoolie under the bright lights of interrogation. The tale takes a bunch of detours in the telling, making for no small amount of confusion as to who's who and what's what. There are tangential tales of bigamy and the difficulties and confusions inherent in trying to keep the various families from encountering each other; there's the constant infighting among the Runyunesque criminals trying to decide who should rule; and a story line about a get rich slow scheme involving some genius' idea to market "mob stars" bubble gums cards. Add to this miasma the feigned insanity by the capo (based on a real-life mobster) who, naturally, does not want to go to jail. In short, this one swims with the fishes.
Breslin has built a reputation of being a Nick Charles/Thin Man type, as comfortable with potentates as predators, friend to every man, respected and even feared (he even looks the part of a wizened wise guy). He has used his wealth of information and contacts to produce several excellent titles, including the acclaimed THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT. It is therefore easy to understand why fans of this genre would put stock in his ability to produce a family-style intrigue.
Breslin's book is subtitled "A Good Novel." After reading it, one can see the capo informing you that I DON'T WANT TO GO TO JAIL is just that...or else. Capisce?
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (firstname.lastname@example.org) on May 1, 2000
I Don't Want to Go to Jail : A Good Story