Peter Maas Fred J. Cook

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Fred J. Cook

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A better title for The Valachi Papers would have been The Thrice-Told Tales of Joseph Valachi. Anyone who may have anticipated that the prize Mafia informer had kept some precious nuggets of sensation hidden away to tell in his own fashion may now be disabused of all such illusion. Except for tidbits, there is nothing new in the present volume….

Maas does as well as can be done with the by-now familiar details of the endless double-cross and endless murder that mark the way of life in the underworld. One of his more fascinating asides deals with his struggle to get this story into book form. Shouting super-Italians put the heat on spineless politicians, and the politicians in turn pressured the Justice Department not to permit this affront to the Italian vote. Justice caved in, reneging on its promise to Valachi that he could write his own book, and Maas had to fight in the courts to win a compromise that permitted him to quote from interviews he had had with Valachi and from letters Valachi had written to him. The result is The Valachi Papers.

The book, as was perhaps inevitable considering its authorship, is marred by some of the same exaggerations that marked the original Valachi hoopla. Basic is the greatly overrated assess-ment of Valachi's performance, the contention that he established for the first time the reality of a gigantic underworld conspiracy that grosses some $40 billion a year. Actually, there had been no mystery about this for decades for anyone with the wit and the will to see. There had been Abe Reles and Murder Inc. in 1940, an exposure marvelously recounted by Burton Turkus and the late Sid Feder in Murder Inc.; there had been the massively impressive Kefauver probe of 1950–51; and, in 1957, had come the vivid demonstration of the Apalachin crime conference.

What Joseph Valachi did when he talked was to fill in chinks in a saga well known…. He garnished the tale with headline-making murder dramas, but his performance could hardly be equated with...

(The entire section is 509 words.)