This is a study on the notorious criminal organisation the Sicilian Mafia – Cosa Nostra – Over the years, Cosa Nostra has become an alternative source of political power in Southern Italian island. The reach of this criminal organisation has spread its tentacles across the globe, becoming a feared and respected multinational criminal organisation. From more humble roots in dealing with cattle rustling, the Cosa Nostra moved into more traditional mafia activities such as protection rackets and later made very heavy profits in drug smuggling. The Cosa Nostra is a difficult theme to research due to the clandestine nature of its activities. It is a secret brotherhood and we learn of its hierarchy and organisation plus its almost religious like entry rituals. It can be bloodthirsty and strict and its internal discipline is its means of maintaining its power. It is in effect a tandem organisation to State power in Italy and its members. even on the run – are able to live clandestinely with few problems. The links between Cosa Nostra and the American Mafia was interesting – Joe Bananas a figure that bridged the gap between both worlds. The two mafia wars of the Twentieth century were bloody and Cosa Nostra resorted to terrorism in its fight amongst itself and also with the state. There has been a very damaging emergence of Pentiti who are whistleblowers who reveal to the authorities the crimes of former colleagues in exchange for immunity or freedom. The Cosa Nostra was brought to the brink of destruction by some of these treacherous characters. The Maxi-Trial led by antimafia judges such as Falcone caused much devastation and meant a change in strategy, leadership and tactics. Falcone ended up suffering a gruesome death, a fate shared by very many enemies of Cosa Nostra. It was interesting seeing some of the dirty political dealings that many leading Italian political figures have with Cosa Nostra, including well known long term President Silvio Berlusconi. The research for this book was often second hand, relying on preceding authors and also details could often be fussy due to a lot of the knowledge of structure of the organisation and its activities come from Pentiti who often are less than reliable sources due to their own bias. I felt that it was an interesting and enlightening study although towards the end of the book the author’s clear antimafia stance became a little annoying as I felt could have been more subjective and perhaps focussed too much on the Crime aspect of Cosa Nostra and lacked respect in terms of seeing it as a perhaps positive force in much of what it does.
Charlie Richardson was an important figure in the London Underworld during the 1960s. The Krays often overshadow The Richardsons in terms of their notoriety as London gangsters but, as is clear from the revelations in this book, The Richardson family were certainly equally as important in the capital’s underworld. Whereas the Kray twins had fame and used to use a lot of violence, the Richardsons tended to be more business-orientated. The two families met each other and were interlinked, sometimes having nasty fallouts during their periods as rivals. Charlie Richardson begins his book back in his youth, remembering the harsh days of World War 2 and what growing up during the blitz and subsequent years of suffering under rationing etc meant to his character formation. He had an early acumen for business and started off as a scrap metal dealer, something that he built his whole operations around. His reputation as a South London hard man led him to brush shoulders with the rich and famous and very powerful. What struck me was not so much the run of the mill criminal tales but the way he was used by high society politicians and espionage networks. Ultimately, his trumped up 25 year jail sentence in 1966 due to allegedly torturing some of his debtors using an electroshocking ‘black box’ – a crime he still refutes – was probably so severe due to his involvement in a South African spy plot to bug Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Downing Street telephones. The chapter when he dodged out of his military draft ending up in his first big prison spell was interesting. Charlie Richardson was certainly a ladies man and could charm the women, moving through several before finally settling with his final partner, Reggie, on his release from jail. The businessman shows in his overseas mining ventures and it was clear that he can not be regarded as just a tough typical cockney criminal. He was a thinking man and his university studies whilst serving his jail sentence showed how he was certainly of a high intellectual ability. What strikes the reader about Charlie Richardson, in his honest and straightforward autobiographical account, is that, aside from his illicit activities and tough reputation, he was above all a family man with values. It is certain, in particular from the character testimonies bequeathed after his death, that Richardson was held in very high esteem with the respect of ordinary decent folk as well as having clearly earned his stripes as perhaps the ‘Last Gangster’ of a forgotten age. Still to this day Richardson’s name in London is held in awe and through reading this book, it is clear to me, why this should be.
Chris and Anthony Donnelly are two likely lads from Wythenshawe, Manchester. Growing up to a backdrop of crime, allegedly part of the the notorious Quality Street Gang, these entrepreneurs became leading figures in the birth of Manchester’s Acid House scene, initiating illegal raves and forging bonds and networks across music from the Hacienda to the launch of their own short-lived crime-ridden Parliament Club, at the peak of The Gunchester headlines when Guns and gangs took hold in Manchester. After heading out of music they entered the world of fashion, launching Gio-Goi. Using a mixture of guerrilla marketing, incorporating their music friends and street buddies, they became a necessity of fashionistas. The brand ultimately became corporate turning over £40 million a year at its height. This tale, interview-style, arranged by Stone Roses biographer, Simon Spence, is a true journey of life’s ups and downs, for a most colourful family. From drug busts, media headlines and jail sentences to filming videos with Pete Doherty and Deadmau5. I especially enjoyed the reminiscences of Old Skool Hacienda DJs, Mike Pickering, Jon Dasilva and Graeme Park. This book has it all. I’m sure that no party is complete without the Donnelly brothers influencing it in some way.
David Tomkins has led an interesting life, to say the least. Our swashbuckling protagonist begins his autobiography as a tough safe-cracker, self-trained in explosives. His early adventures lead him to prison life where he swaps tales and picks up skills, leading to further crimes. Moving away from his gangster life, Tomkins utilises his explosive skills to full effect by becoming a mercenary. His military adventures take him across Africa, from Angola to Togo and into Rhodesia. Constantly under suspicion at airports from Special Branch and security services, Tomkins becomes a darling of the Press, a true life mercenary who engages in politics at the highest level. Merging his mercenary work with business interests he becomes an arms dealer, strutting around the world, negotiating some stranger-than-fiction deals with some rather salubrious characters. Eventually his mercenary work comes back tot he fore when he is recruited to fight out in Colombia, first arranging an international special forces brigade to attack the FARC and then later, employed by the Calí drug cartel he is delivered a project to assassinate the head of the rival Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. Ultimately both the Colombian adventures do not achieve their mission goals and later end our hero up in US custody where he returns to the prison system, detailing the flaws of the US Justice system and ending the tale whiling out his time in jail before luckily being returned to his wife and family in the UK. The book is well written and is truly compelling. David Tomkins’ life is surely a worthy tale to be told and I can’t think of many more varied real life adventure stories out there.
A doctor conversing with one of his elderly patients in Japan, reveals this amazingly quaint story of a Yakuza gang leader. Set in the heart of Tokyo in the early twentieth century, our hero comes from an ordinary background and works his way into a veritable life in the underworld, as a professional gambler, running dice games, which is the heart of the Yakuza’s business. The story has tales of romance from whores and geisha women, to running away and eloping only to cut off his own finger in a ritual apology. There are several visits to jail where he abides by Yakuza rules and etiquette, gaining much respect. He has a stint in the military abroad in North Korea and spends much of World War 2 dodging bombs in Tokyo and continuing to run gambling dens. There is an antiquity to the tales which describe the character is the most personal way. One feels attached to the gangster and one can learn a great deal about the structure of organised crime and what life actually was like to be part of it only last century. One thing that resounded was the deep respect for bosses and between members of the same organisation and indeed rival gangs. I really loved the story and read the book rather quickly. It’s a shame the final part was glossed over and we didn’t get to continue the story up until the death of the Yakuza man
Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld by Nicolai Lilin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an exciting tale of a youth living in the Transnistrian underworld. His society, a Siberian criminal society has its own strict laws. The tales of violence and crime are quite horrifying but there is a sense of justice in this honest criminal’s life. The rules seems to provide a cohesive society and it is interesting to see how the people of Bender survive, resisting the government and mainstream authorities. I particularly enjoyed the tale of the police raid at his grandfather’s house where the laws of not addressing the police directly were explained. The most horrific part of the book described his experiences in a youth detention centre where other boys were subjected to horrifying rape ordeals. The story runs swiftly and is narrated well. At the end as he strives to move away from the criminal underworld the way is paved for a new career in the army. I look forward to reading the follow-up book about Nicolai Lilin’s life as a sniper in the Chechen war.
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