Who says crime doesn't pay?
At least former "goodfella" Henry Hill is determined to see that it does - even after his professed reformation - and publishers are more than eager to be his accomplices.
Hill - the subject of Nicholas Pileggi's "Wiseguy," possibly the best Mob book ever written, which later became the Martin Scorsese film classic "Goodfellas" - is on his third cash-in against his notoriety (after a cookbook and a Big Apple tour guide) with "Gangsters and Goodfellas," an update of his post-"Wiseguy" life.
If it's successful, it could be his biggest rip-off since the Lufthansa heist.
The first clue that this might not be a great value for the money is the format. Not only is this a smaller-sized hardcover, but also the type nearly qualifies it for large-print status for the visually impaired. So the 262 pages of text are about the equivalent of 180 in a normal-sized book.
But a reader willing to accept that in order to catch up with the engaging sociopath of "Goodfellas" has another surprise in store - the first half of "Gangsters and Goodfellas" is virtually a poorly written rehash of the events covered in the Pileggi book.
Sure, there are a few newly revealed details about who really whacked whom, but unless you're a "Wiseguy/Goodfellas" fanatic, you won't care.
So what about the update? Is that worth the price of the book?
It would have been - had Pileggi written it. During his first years in the federal Witness Protection Program, Hill went on with his typical scams and vices, which could be the basis for a great story. It could be, but that's not the case here.
In many ways, "Gangsters and Goodfellas" is a tribute to Pileggi's skill as a writer. Co-author Gus Russo lets Hill ramble on in a semi-organized narrative, lightly recounting the events of his life after the Mob in a way that might have made a decent magazine article, but it has none of the depth or detail necessary for an actual book.
One gets the impression this book was merely transcribed from tape recordings of Hill's reminiscences, with little challenge from Russo to go back and flesh anything out or re-examine a premise. At least once, an anecdote is even repeated.
"Gangsters and Goodfellas" is as padded as the payroll of a Mob-controlled union and as under-supported as the restaurants where the wiseguys rang up their huge unpaid tabs.
The only stabs at substance are Hill's lame attempts to blame his moral depravity on Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia, along with supposed inherited tendencies toward alcoholism.
My advice for "Wiseguy/Goodfellas" fans who want to know to know about Hill's post-Mob life - check the book out from the library and skim the last half. Don't let Hill scam you out of your hard-earned money the way he has so many others in his sorry life.