of Bosses by Joseph F. O'brien and Andris Kurins
the first books reviewed in ideas and events.com was Donnie
Brasco, the incredible true story of
an undercover FBI agent who penetrated the New York mafia. Boss
of Bosses is my second mafia book pick, and it begins with a message
from the FBI to the Gambino crime family boss, Paul Castellano.
The message concerns Joseph Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco.
five New York crime families had just put out a $500,000 contract for
Pistone's assassination and the FBI wanted to be completely clear about
one thing - any attack on Pistone or his family would result in an
unprecedented assault on organized crime. Paul Castellano accepted
the message with mutual respect for his adversaries.
begins our introduction to the colorful men who at one time made up the
Gambino crime family.
At the beginning of the story, the
FBI knows little about the Gambinos. Slowly we follow along as
they investigate its members and their activities.
head of the family were three aging mobsters - Boss Paul Castellano,
underboss Joseph "Piney" Armone, and consiglieri Joe Gallo -
all benevolent grandfather-types who earned fatherly respect even from
Serving under these three men were a mix of divided mafia
captains, or capos. Chief among the street-wise capos was
John Gotti. Mafia family life is a tense life, but tensions began
to boil over when capos like Gotti saw their influence slip in a new and
improved Gambino family, a "legitimate" Gambino family.
Drugs and pornography were leaving some of the tougher capos with less
influence among the crime family hierarchy.
The Gambino's problems
reached a critical point after the capos learned that the FBI had bugged Paul Castellano's house, possibly revealing all sorts of family
secrets. A federal indictment followed.
were scared. What would Paul tell the FBI to save himself?
Probably nothing, but the Gambinos were apparently not going to take
that chance. All of this leads to the grim ending. On
December 16, 1985, Paul Castellano took six bullets from a team of
assassins. It was one of the most spectacular mob hits in years,
all in public and outside a posh Manhattan restaurant.
much for the basics. What truly sets apart this story is that the
two authors were in fact special agents in the FBI cell that
investigated and arrested Paul Castellano.
task begins humbly enough with these orders - go out and meet the
Gambino consiglieri, Joe Gallo; talk to him, see what he has to say;
maybe it will lead to something. What is even more amazing is that
many of the Gambinos were actually willing to talk. So over the
course of the book there is a cordial rivalry between the FBI and the
The story has its best moments during the
one-on-one encounters between the mafia and the government agents, but
the highlight of Boss of Bosses comes when the authors break into
Big Paul's house and plant the bug. It is a gold mine of
information that eventually leads to Castellano's arrest - and
Behind all of this are several other
stories. There is Paul's mistress, his Colombian maid - a large
point of contention with the cliquish mafia code. There are also
the Gambino soldiers. Some were "in" with the Boss,
others were out, and still others were taking mafia-style bullets to the
Underlying the story we keep returning to the FBI's odd sense of
respect for their rival. Our familiarity of Castellano grows as
one can almost hear his private conversations over the kitchen
counter. Then Castellano falls before he can face a federal trial.
The murder was
unsolved at the time Boss of Bosses was published. The
case is now closed on Castellano's murder, but that's a story for other
mafia books. Read Donnie Brasco and don't stop until you've
finished Boss of Bosses.