Posted: August 27, 2021 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires.

By Selwyn Raab. • Review by Tony Bulmer

Pull up poolside with Tony Bulmer and enjoy a smooth sippin’ look at Five Familes by Selwyn Raab

Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. Crimeziners everywhere will no doubt be familiar with the five mafia gangs of New York City. Five Families covers them all. From the wild days of Lucky Luciano to Paul Castellano, John Gotti and beyond, the usual suspects and their nefarious henchmen are all here.

Crimeziners addicted to mafia documentaries will have seen Selwyn Raab providing commentary for shows like Making of the Mob on the History and Biography channels. Raab was a New York Times investigative journalist for twenty-five years. The 87-year-old grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The veteran journalist went on to work for NBC news and was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1968 for his novel, Justice in the Back Room, a book that was adapted into the pilot for long-running TV show Kojak featuring the lollipop sucking detective, portrayed by Telly Savalas. 

Five Families is Raab’s crowning achievement. He divides this 765page donkey-choker of a book

into three sections: one on mafia history to 1970; a second that covers the F.B.I.’s use of the RICO laws that culminated in the so-called Commission trial of 1985; and a final section that charts the subsequent fates of each of the five families, or borgatas, as they are more properly called.

Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese—those guys were always an unwieldy flock of cats to herd, no surprise then that with so much history and so many characters to account for there are a number of narrative wobbles. But take heart, Crimeziners, this fat-fingered tome is perhaps the most valiant and all-encompassing attempt to catalog the history of the Cosa Nostra yet penned 

Raab traces the Mafia’s origin to 19th-century Sicily and its transition to the United States. Outlining the mob’s evolution in crime—from bootlegging, numbers and protection rackets, to pump-and-dump stock schemes, cement monopolies, and window fraud.

Natch, Raab reported through the Gotti era, so we get a heaping portion of scary third-rate mooks

like Anthony Gaspipe Casso of the Luccheses, Carmine the Snake Persico of the Colombos, and Joe the Ear Massino of the Bonannos. This book delivers a swirling stewpot of snake-eyed lowlifes who just keep on coming. In case you need it, we also get an angle on the well-worn story of Sammy the Bull Gravano, the mafia underboss who blew the lid off omertà by cutting a deal with prosecutors.

There is a certain “crime does not pay” comfort to this book. The rise and decline of the NYC mafia is admirably laid out, but the teasing promise to spill the gossip on the resurgence of the mafia, that is headlined on the cover of this new and updated edition [the original was published in 2005] is rather more sketchy. Today, all the big fish have flapped away to ranch-house retirements in the Witness Protection Program. Leaving the pondlife left-overs to crowd their way through the teeming shallows of organized crime.

Five Families is a seventies style blockbuster of a book that delivers a Puzzoesque history of the New York Mafia. It makes for satisfying if somewhat unsettling reading, but the real fear is delivers is the uncertain knowledge that a big mafia fish, that has not yet been caught, is still out there, waiting to put the spoilers on your beach holiday.

Five Families: Buy it already, youse guys. Tell ’em Crimezine sent you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s