- Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia
- by Rick Porrello
- Publisher – Pocket Star Books
- Copyright 1998
- 264 pages
Rating – 8/10
Review – If Stokely Carmichael was right, “violence is as American as apple pie.” In that case, the mafia qualifies as one our bedrock institutions. “Wise guys” certainly get our attention. For authors and readers, all of the prior stories of violence, greed, and intrigue set the bar pretty high. Many of us have enjoyed so many mafia tales that it’s difficult to come up with anything new to say.
Last Saturday (17 October), my family and I were in my local Dollar Tree. I saw a copy of Kill the Irishman, which had been on the back of my reading list for some time. Figuring you can’t go too far wrong for a dollar, I bought the book. By Sunday evening, I had finished it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Two Tales Under One Cover
In Kill the Irishman, Rick Porrello has written a winner about Cleveland’s mafia in the 1960s and 70s. This is the true story of Danny Greene, an Irish tough guy who challenged the Italians who controlled much of the crime in Cleveland. Greene was a school dropout from a dysfuntional family. Starting with a menial job on Cleveland’s docks, he became a violent player in organized crime.
On one level, Kill the Irishman is a standard true-crime story told well. True, it’s not In Cold Blood, but Porrello’s prose is quite good. On another level, the book is one of a kind. Initally, the book focuses on Greene, a hood with chutzpah who chose to live “a life less ordinary.” The problem with the David (Greene) versus Goliath (the mafia) aspect of the story is that Greene wasn’t any more likable than were the hoods he challenged for control of Cleveland. It’s difficult to find anyone to cheer for in this one.
On another level, Kill is a tale of the police’s assault on Cleveland’s mafia. Toward the latter part of the story, the focus shifts to the investigation and the cops and gangsters who were involved in it. Greene disappears from what had been his story up to that point. While both sections of the book are interesting, this shift blurs the book’s focus.
Cleveland is the Star
Porrello deserves much credit for crafting such a readable book. Cynics often suggest that true-crime books are little more than “prose junk food.” All too often, that’s the case. But it doesn’t have to be.
As a Cleveland-area resident, Porrello has an insider’s feel for the community and a writer’s ability to convey that feel to the reader. Consider his description of Cleveland’s longshoremen –
“Longshoring is a small but furious world of winches, crates, pallets, lifts, cranes, and diesel smoke. If a ship ports during the night, longshoremen may have to work in foggy, damp weather. Often workers are transients with questionable backgrounds, but there is a strong camaraderie among these often foulmouthed, tough-talking, bluest of blue collar workers. … [During a shift] the greenhorns drop into the holds of a ship to strap and chain giant containers of cargo. Cowhides are the worst for the men in the hold because maggots and salt fall on them as the loads are being raised” (p. 33).
Pulled Punches – Weaknesses
While Kill is good, there are drawbacks. For one, Greene doesn’t emerge as a person. At book’s end, you know he’s a thug with a lot of ambition, but you don’t know much more about him. Another issue is that the story – while always interesting – is disjointed. Porrello tacks several addenda on the book’s end, but they don’t mesh well with the rest of the book. A final gripe is that the pictures contain spoilers that detract from your interest in the story.
But don’t get me wrong – this is a good story. How can yo wrong with true stories of Mafia members who were moles for the cops? Or stories of rubouts and the Cleveland mafia’s shortage of “made men?” You can’t make this stuff up.
So, I have my gripes. But anyone considering reading Kill the Irishman probably isn’t looking for Hamlet or War and Peace. Danny Greene isn’t likable and Porrello struggles a bit with a story that doesn’t have a simple beginning-middle-end narrative. But that’s nonfiction. Real people and real events are messy and open to interpretation.
My father often reminds me that in life it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Kill the Irishman’s kind of like that. If you want to learn a bit about Cleveland’s underworld – and the colorful characters who lived in that world a few years back – you’ll enjoy the book. Just don’t expect a simple story.