This is the final review of four books published this year that deal with the crime and corruption in South Boston. “The Brothers Bulger” focuses on the careers of James Bulger and William Bulger; it attempts to cast light on the connections between them.
|By Rick Winterson
The book, “The Brothers Bulger” (332 pages), was written by long-time Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr. The copyright (2006) is in Carr’s name only. The publisher is Warner Books, a division of the Time Warner Book Group in New York.
Carr’s book tells the lives of James (also called “Jim”, “Jimmy”, or “Whitey”) and William Bulger (“Bill” or “Billy”), and to a small extent, their younger brother John (or “Jack”). It also describes a large number of colorful characters, both good and bad, who populated Boston’s criminal, political, and law enforcement scenes over the last 50 years.
There are two throughlines in Carr’s book: first, the corruption endemic to Boston’s politics and law enforcement; second, the links between James and William Bulger.
That there was corruption in Boston and Massachusetts is undoubtedly true. That was certainly well known before Carr’s book was published. Various commissions were unanimous in accusing politicians at the state level. Joseph DiCarlo’s decline and fall splashed all over Kevin Harrington. The corruption in Boston helped William Weld, who had gotten a reputation for integrity during Watergate, in his campaigns for public office. And the massive corruption in the Boston office of the FBI still taints that agency.
Those parts of “The Brothers Bulger” dealing with political corruption are essentially repeats of old news – possibly useful for getting a quick picture of political history since 1950, but not much else. And the universal use (and abuse) of political patronage in Boston and Massachusetts has been obvious to local residents since World War II.
Carr constantly implies that the lives of James and William Bulger were intertwined. Most of this connection is supposed to consist of William protecting James Bulger from arrest, after his criminal pursuits became obvious. Despite some intriguing factoids - none of them new or unknown – there isn’t a concrete basis supporting this connection.
If one rereads the sections of the book devoted to James separately from the sections on William (as this reviewer did), the “connections” are quite tenuous – one or two phone calls between them, a few Sunday visits together at Stephen Flemmi’s mother’s house (perhaps), William Bulger’s hesitant testimony at congressional hearings, and some allegations about punishing state troopers who interfered with James Bulger (unproven). Other than the obvious fact that they are brothers, that’s about it.
Not only are Carr’s inferences unproven, they have already appeared in his columns. “The Brothers Bulger” is therefore a paste-up. In addition, Carr levels so many ad hominem attacks at the characters in his book, especially William Bulger, that they interfere with the facts in his book. Several Boston reporters have an unfortunate habit: they think it’s all right to make fun of a person’s physical characteristics and limitations. That includes making faces and gestures during major congressional hearings. “Infra dig” is the phrase. Apparently, Carr’s parents didn’t teach him any better.
There are a lot of annoying errors throughout “The Brothers Bulger”. For example, in writing his book, Carr relocates both the Bayside (now Seapoint) and South Boston High to H Street, as well as moving the original Kelly’s Landing to Castle Island. He should work for the BRA. Carr also lists Brian Halloran as a “ballonhead” (sic).
Late in the book, Carr claims that Governor Romney was going to pack the UMass board with him (Carr), Alan Dershowitz, and Judge George Daher. That was supposedly the reason William Bulger resigned as UMass President. If that is so, then Carr participated in the same political “gamesmanship” he condemns so scathingly throughout the rest of his book. When writing non-fiction, an author shouldn’t speak from both sides of his mouth.
The book cover is filled with breathless hype – “stunning”, “compelling”, “dark deeds”, and so on. The blurb from Alan Dershowitz mentions several people who actually play little or no part in “The Brothers Bulger”. The book simply doesn’t measure up to that hype. Carr forgets that an author who lives by the dust jacket, dies by the dust jacket.
VERDICT: (D+) A repeat of stories already published, but at least it has an index. The factual portions of “The Brothers Bulger” are well known; the rest is unsubstantiated.