Synopsis: Even among the Mob, the Westies were feared. Out of a partnership between two sadistic thugs, James Coonan and Mickey Featherstone, the gang rose out of the inferno of Hell’s Kitchen, a decaying tenderloin slice of New York City’s West Side. They became the most notorious gang in the history of organized crime, excelling in extortion, numbers running, loansharking, and drug peddling. Upping the ante on depravity, their specialty was execution by dismemberment. Though never numbering more than a dozen members, their reign lasted for almost twenty years-until their own violent natures got the best of them, precipitating a downfall that would become as infamous as their notorious ascension into the annals of crime.
First Line: At approximately 6:30 A.M. on the morning of November 4, 1987, Francis Thomas “Mickey” Featherstone awoke in a cold sweat.
Random Quote: The most dominant symbol of their lives was not J.F.K. riding proudly along Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, but J.F.K. slumped over in the back seat of a limousine in Dallas, his brains splatteredall over his wife Jackie’s dress.
Review: T.J. English is one of the best writers of true crime reporting that is a leap above the usual cheap paperbacks full of gory pictures that you see at the grocery store. His books are well-written, well-researched, and as much about the context of the crime or organized crime group that he is writing about.
The Westies is his first book. In it you can see him working through all the things that will make his later books so fascinating. While he’s written most about organized crime, he’s continuing to expand his repertoire into further fields. Since Whitey Bulger was captured I’ve been wanting to go back and read this one since English wrote about Bulger in another great book, Paddywhacked. It was very hard to find a copy when I discovered English and the one copy I did find was, shall we say, extremely used – ultimately the copy was so filthy it made it hard to want to read it.
They were brought down by Mickey Featherstone, a long-time member and right-hand man to James “Jimmy” Coonan, the nominal leader of the crew. Featherstone is a complicated figure and the tale of his association with the Westies is a fascinating one. I was very happy to see that the book had been published in a Kindle format and really dug into things this time. The Westies is about a group of semi-organized criminals who operated out of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York (now called Clinton). They grew up in an atmosphere were crime was a way of life and they became one of the most notorious gangs in history. For twenty years they ruled with an iron fist – dismembering, murdering, selling drugs, robbing, loansharking – the list goes on and on. They terrified the Italian mob so much that they made an alliance with The Westies in order to try to tamp down the violence that caused a lot of unwanted attention.
The Westies were a phenomenon of their changing time – the world they grew up in and into was a different place than the world of their parents. Much of their extreme brutality can be explained by the quote above along with exposure to the Vietnam War and their use and abuse of cocaine along with many other drugs.
One warning: This is not a book for the squeamish. The Westies were infamous for their brutal violence and it would be impossible to write about them without writing about that in detail.
The Westies is a great place to start with English’s writing and an interesting beginning for an author who only gets better with each of his books.
FTC Disclosure: I bought it for myself
Publishing Information: Kindle edition (Open Road) – November 15, 2011
Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reading Challenge, Mystery and Suspense Challenge, Non-Fiction/Non-Memoir Challenge