A Criminal and an Irishman Review
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Some people around Boston are getting a little sick of the Boston mob books that have been surfacing lately, and some can't get enough. One of the latest to emerge is A Criminal and an Irishman by Patrick Nee, with Richard Farrell and Michael Blythe.

There are some great lines in this book, starting with the author’s note: “Everything detailed in this book I have either done, seen done, or heard about from the person who did it... Confidential informers are self-serving criminals who lie. This is my life as I remember it. And I’m comfortable with that.”

Well, you can’t get much clearer than that now, can you?

An “action junkie” from South Boston who does things for the thrill of the risk, Nee takes us though his service in the Marine Corps in Vietnam; there’s no question he remains proud of his Marine Corps service, from which he was honorably discharged. He credits the service with enhancing his criminal ability, though I’m not sure the Marine Corps is proud of this alumnus. Nee tells of robberies, South Boston gang wars, murders, and gunrunning. He describes his relationship with the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger (see my review of The Brothers Bulger by Howie Carr) and his intense hatred of the man.

Nee describes himself as “a criminal with a passion: to drive the British out of Ireland.” According to Nee, he committed his crimes to further his goal. He became deeply involved in smuggling guns out of Boston to the IRA and tells how he did it. (One clever way was to smuggle the guns in a casket, under a dead body. The only trouble with this is that he had to wait for someone to die who wanted to be buried in Ireland.) Then came the Big One, a major gunrunning operation, years in the making: seven tons of weapons aboard the fishing boat Valhalla from Gloucester, Massachusetts to Ireland in 1984. I believe the voyage of the Valhalla may have been written by one of Nee’s co-authors because Nee wasn’t there, and there’s a distinct difference in the telling of the Valhalla’s story on the high seas. It is nonetheless a fantastic story that made headlines worldwide.

I spent many, many years working for criminal defense attorneys in Boston, starting in 1981. I knew some of the people Nee talks about. There have been books written involving past cases on which I assisted, and usually I read them to see how true I think they really are. Most of the time, I’ve found the books written by the actual criminal to be untruthful and egotistical, jammed with excuses and claims of innocence. As such, I was fully expecting this book to be totally self-serving for Nee and his cause, the IRA. To some extent it was. However, Nee’s brutal honesty is refreshing. He never lets you forget that he was (and is still) a criminal, and, though some may disagree, Nee himself says he was a “damn good criminal.” He stole to pay bills, he stole to feed his children, and he stole to support the IRA. And for this he makes no apology.

A Criminal and an Irishman is not another “Where’s Whitey” book; rather, it’s the story of one man’s passion and adherence to his beliefs and convictions, albeit through illegal means. The criminal mind is fascinating, and Mr. Nee's is no exception. If you like true crime, this book is worth a read.

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