Tough Guy, also known as Unlocked: The Life and Crimes of a Mafia Insider, is like listening to a very good raconteur. The writing has no fat. Mr Ferrante just rips into the stories of his life working as a truck hijacker, debt collector and trouble shooter for the mafia, mainly for the Gambino Family, one of the five families of the Commission.
The memoir has a distinctive voice, but the narrator doesn’t rely on it: There is plenty of interesting content.
Mr Ferrante writes about things like taking swags to a fence named Barry the Brokester; or about flying to San Francisco with a crew for a robbery; or how two guys from his crew, Botz and Funzi, hit a drug dealer for thirty grand, but the kid went to his wiseguy uncle who wanted his money back; and many other tales of life in the New York mafia.
Speaking of narrative voice, one reviewer observed that when Mr Ferrante narrates his life as a mobster, he uses a rapid-fire, street punk voice; when he narrates how he discovered books in prison, he uses a more classical style of voice. But the stories are what keep the pages turning.
This book would be a good complement to a general history of the American mafia, like Meyer Lansky, Mogul of the Mob; or Selwyn Raab’s Five Families.
Although Tough Guy does include some interesting mafia history, the best thing about the book is the insight it gives into the modern mafia at street level. It tells about how crews would get tip-offs about trucks carrying valuable cargo, rob them, then send on a cut to families like the Columbos or Gambinos. The book also gives many examples of mafia etiquette and problem solving.
Then Mr Ferrante lifts the lid on life in prisons, and he paints a pretty horrifying picture. Luckilly, during his time in prison he discovered reading. “One book led to another.”
Tough guy is also the story of someone who picked up the pieces of his life and made something new. Redemption through reading is a major theme.
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-copyright Simon Sandall.