Bill Bonanno & Joe Pistone

"The Good Guys"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JAN 29, 2006)

The Good Guys

“Two-Gun” Tony Cosentino, the capo (captain or boss) of a Brooklyn-based Mafia crew, elicits the assistance of Henry “The Hammer” Franzione, his counterpart of a crew working out of a “social club” on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, to find a missing Columbia University professor of Russian studies.  Franzione assigns the job to up and comer Bobby (“Bobby Blue Eyes” or “Bobby Hats”) San Filippo.  Bobby, like the good soldier that he is, accepts the assignment without question.  (Good questions would have included: "Who was this professor to Cosentino" and "Why didn’t Tony use someone from his own crew to track the guy down?")

FBI agents Connor O’Brien and Laura Russo, assigned to monitor the on-going wiretap at Franzione’s social club, hear the conversation about the missing Russian professor assignment, and (not without being partially motivated by the desire to be relieved from the drudgery of the surveillance) inform their supervisor of it, and he agrees that they should do their own search for the missing professor in case it signaled a dangerous alliance brewing between the Italian and Russian mobs.

The search for the missing professor is told from both the Mafia’s and FBI’s point of view by means of alternating chapters.  The Good Guys is a unique, perhaps unprecedented, novel resulting from the unusual collaboration between Bill Bonanno, son and successor of legendary mobster Joe Bonanno, and Joe Pistone, who went under the name of  “Donnie Brasco” when he worked as an undercover FBI agent and infiltrated the Mafia during the 1970’s, an effort that succeeded in getting numerous leading Mafiosi sent to jail.  Bonanno, who relates the tale of the Mafia’s search for the professor, and Pistone, who tells the FBI’s side of the story, are assisted by professional author David Fisher.  The result is a literary success.

Each of the alternating chapters reveals the inner workings of the Mafia and the FBI.  Perhaps most curious is the bureaucratic nature of the Mafia.  Everyone knows that the FBI is a bureaucracy, obsessed with protocol and paperwork.  But we learn that the Mafia is protocol-laden as well with strict rules about many aspects of “Family” life, like the procedures that govern the steps a member must follow to speak to another crew’s capo.  The reader also learns of the pressures on Mafia members to be earners, which impels them to seek out and create schemes and scams in order to earn their keep and share their bounty up the ladder of mob hierarchy.

The book gives a balanced view of the FBI.  Pistone says agents are concerned about protecting their butts so as not to jeopardize promotions, but he also stresses agents’ dedication to fighting crime and willingness to take chances despite their potential roadblock to advancement.  Women FBI agents are as competent as, but usually more aggressive than, their male counterparts.

Bobby and the FBI agents search for the professor on both parallel and separate tracks, criss-crossing each other, using their own respective specialized tools of investigation, Bobby not being under the constraints of the Constitution when engaged in interrogation, but then again not able to easily to trace license plate numbers as the FBI can. 

As it turns out, 320 pounder “Skinny Al” D’Angelo of Cosentino’s Brooklyn crew is killed in a particularly vicious manner.  The FBI learn that Al had befriended the professor, sought his services as interpreter and drove him to meetings between Cosentino and members of the Russian mob, where the professor (unbeknownst to the Russians) interpreted for Cosentino what the Russians were saying among themselves.  Separately, Bobby stumbles upon an ingenious gasoline scam the Russians have going.  In retaliation for Bobby and fellow crewmembers’ hijacking one of the Russian’s stolen gas trucks, the Russians murder Bobby’s mistress in a manner similar to Skinny Al’s murder.  Bobby realizes her killers are the same Russians mobsters Cosentino is dealing with, gets permission to talk to Cosentino, and Cosentino absolutely forbids Bobby from doing anything about it, on account of the lucrative deal Cosentino is about to sew up with those Russians.

These and other events converge in a face-to-face meeting between Bobby and agents Russo and O’Brien, which sets up the book’s climax. Russo and O’Brien give Bobby the missing pieces he needs to accomplish the revenge he now seeks for the murder of his mistress.  They gamble and make a play that, if successful, could thwart the pending Italian-Russian alliance.  However, if the agency’s plan fails, it could lead to a bloodbath and major embarrassment.  On the other hand, Bobby may very well be a dead man whether he succeeds or fails. If he fails in extracting his vengeance, the Russians would surely kill him.  If he accomplishes his revenge against the Russians, Cosentino would have it in for Bobby big time, for Bobby’s disobeying Cosentino’s direct orders and wrecking the pending alliance and its sizeable profits. 

The showdown between Bobby (and his loyal sidekick Little Eddie LaRocca) and the Russians, and its aftermath, pull together Bonanno’s and Pistone’s story into a cohesive whole and illustrates the battle that Bonanno says is raging within the Mafia today: the battle between loyalty to the Family versus loyalty to money.  In his commitment to Family loyalty, Bobby comes out as one of the “good guys” referred to in the novel’s title, for upholding the better traditional values of the mob against the forces from within that would subordinate those values to greed—and in furtherance of profits would even allow outsiders to whack a Family member without a response (a capital offense according to the Family code of honor). 

One of the points Bonanno makes, and Pistone seems to agree, is that the nobility of Bobby’s willingness to give his life in furtherance of those values makes it difficult to view the mob one dimensionally.  Certainly, members of the Mafia are, among other negative things, remorseless murderers, thieves, loan sharks, pimps, pornographers, drug dealers, counterfeiters and extortionists—qualities to be condemned. Yet, many movies may encourage mindless romanticizing of the mob on account of their funny names, talk, dress and manner. But, whatever one’s view of the Mafia, it is doubtless to be influenced by The Good Guys.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

More books by Joe Pistone:

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About the Author:

Joe Pistone, born in 1939, has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of organized crime. In the international bestseller Donnie Brasco, FBI agent Joe Pistone told his story of working deep undercover in the Bonanno Mafia family. For six years, Pistone posed as jewel thief Donnie Brasco in order to pull off one of the most audacious sting operations ever.

Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno, born in 1932, is the son of Mafia boss Joseph Bonanno. During New York's so-called Mob Banana Wars (1964–69), two attempts were made on Bill Bonanno's life, and his father was finally forced to relinquish control.

David Fisher has collaborated on more than a dozen bestsellers, including Killer, the first nonfiction book done with a Mafia hit man. Fisher is also the author of the new videogame MadeMan.

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