Monday, March 24, 2008

The Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin keeps bad company in the new crime biography The Good Rat.

At age 72, mobster Burton Kaplan became a rat. He had been a stand-up criminal all his life, accepting his punishments without naming names. Knowing that he might become the scapegoat of an ongoing FBI investigation of organized crime and wanting to reduce a sentence that he was already serving, he became an informant in the case against two Mafia cops. It was not anything personal that made him do, as he said from the witness stand.

"About a month later Steve Caracappa came to my house with a box of cookies, and he says, Is it okay if we talk? And I says sure. I like Steve. I liked him then. I like him now. I am not doing him any good by being a rat, but I always liked him."

Caracappa is one of two bad cops that Kaplan often hired to kill mobsters that crossed him. From their squad car, they would pull the victims off the street or road, tell them that they were going to police headquarters, and then go to an auto chop shop to complete their contracts. Caracappa and his partner Lou Eppolito were efficient murderers, but they never earned enough to quit their day jobs. Kaplan was a tough negotiator.

Using sworn testimony and his observations of the court case, Breslin explores the character and methods of Kaplan and his associates, men who killed without regret. The journalist says that their Mafia world is now impoverished, as government run lotteries have taken away most of their business. Most of today's mobsters are losers who don't like to do real work. Being a man who enjoyed work and pinching a penny, Kaplan manipulated the mob well without being a "made member" for years.

True crime readers will enjoy Breslin's entertaining and economic prose.

Breslin, Jimmy. The Good Rat: A True Story. Harper Collins, 2008. 270p. ISBN 9780060856663.

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