After much hemming and hawing, I finally gave in and picked up a copy of Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston’s Most Honorable Irish Mobster, yet another book in what has become known as the South Boston/Irish mob genre.
There’s a code of honor in South Boston, in case you haven’t heard: keep your mouth shut. Never, ever rat on anyone, for anything, at any time. Just ask John Shea.
As a child, John Shea lived for his love of boxing. It seems he could have had quite a career as a boxer, had he stayed with it. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade, which is evident in his writing. The grammar and style are poor and Shea tends to mix his tenses. But who needs education when you can hook up with the infamous James “Whitey” Bulger, head up his drug operation, and then write a book about it? That’s what every honorable Irish mobster should be doing.
As all Whitey Bulger enthusiasts know, and as I pointed out in my review of Howie Carr’s book, The Brothers Bulger, Whitey Bulger, the Boston legend and FBI’s most wanted, second only to Osama Bin Laden, is a murderer, rapist, thief, pedophile, and drug kingpin who rose to the top of the Irish mob, leaving bodies and destruction in his wake. A couple of Boston FBI agents recruited Whitey and his partner in crime, Stevie Flemmi, as informants so the Feds could gather critical information through them and take down the New England Mafia. In exchange, Whitey and Company were allowed their own crime spree and were tipped off to upcoming indictments, wiretaps, and anything else, so they could stay one step ahead of the law.
John Shea met Whitey when he was 14 years old and by the age of 21 was heading up Bulger’s drug operation in South Boston. He looked up to Whitey and proudly describes himself as Whitey’s protégé. In addition to running Whitey Bulger’s drug operation, Shea had his own operation and drug connections going as well, because, as he freely points out, he’s a smart guy, and this was a smart move for him.
As you might expect, after years of Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi skipping gleefully down the garden path, ratting out their fellow mobsters left and right, and nobody having a clue, the Feds caught up with Shea, along with Bulger’s other merry men, and when the dust settled, Shea faced a life sentence for, among other things, running a continuing criminal enterprise in drug trafficking. Charges against the others range ran the gamut from murder on down. All of Shea’s co-defendants cooperated with the government. But Shea wouldn’t do it. Even when he learned of Bulger’s and Flemmi’s relationships with the FBI, he still wouldn’t cooperate. He was not a rat, damn it. However, he did end up copping a plea to 12 years in prison to avoid a life sentence.
Shea spends entirely too much time telling about how many people he beat
up, and then painstakingly describing every upper cut, cross-cut, left
hook, and various and other boxing moves he found necessary to beat
the daylights out of these people. In fact, that’s pretty much what the
book is about. He really doesn’t give us a whole lot on his Svengali,
Whitey Bulger; I guess this is understandable, to a point. After all, the book is about John Shea, who was so busy writing about what a tough guy he
was that he really doesn’t tell us what enquiring minds want to know.
When I reviewed Pat Nee’s book, A Criminal and an Irishman, I mentioned that true crime books written by the actual criminal tend to be, among
other things, egotistical and self-serving. Shea’s book, unlike Mr.
Nee’s, is a perfect example of what I mean. He never tires of telling us
how tough he is-what a great guy he is, how honorable he is, never to
have ratted out anyone. But the bottom line here is this: the result of
all of Shea’s hard work on this book is a portrait of John Shea as a punk
kid, a drug dealer, and one of Whitey’s minions who went down. There’s no
honor in any of that.