Book: Black Mass

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Book:

Black Mass: The Irish Mob, The FBI and A Devil's Deal

Author: Dick Lehr, Gerard O'Neill
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Publisher: Public Affairs Press (DC)

Two boys—John Connolly, and James “Whitey” Bulger—grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the late 1970s, 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 between them-a dirty deal to trade secrets and take down Boston’s Italian Mafia in the process—would spiral out of control, leading to murders, and drug dealing, and racketeering indictments. And, ultimately, to Bulger making the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Told in compelling narrative style by the Boston Globe reporters who covered the case from the beginning, Black Mass is a riveting epic crime story that is also a book about Boston and Irish America; about the pull of place; and about the ties between that blind.

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Amazon.com

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

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