Killers is smooth and methodical, a novel to be savored by insiders, requiring a more deliberate effort for those unfamiliar with Boston’s rich history, its criminal element, and the outrageous antics of the infamous Whitey Bulger. Segueing between the narratives of second-tier mobster Bench McCarthy (properly pronounced McCartee) and ex-cop private investigator Jack Reilly, Carr makes no
overt distinction between the two. Only the language and rhythm of their speech patterns identify which character is currently sharing his story. This method is at first confusing but quickly becomes identifiable, each man detailing his perspective in an emerging landscape of murder, graft, greed, and political corruption. (In spite of the cover art, this is a macho tale, females relegated to traditional roles, mostly powerless outside their sexuality.) Still, Carr is giving an inside scoop: Boston from the perspective of two outsiders familiar with politics and criminality, the legal and the lawless.
Two issues dominate conversation from the State House to the streets: the first is a bill currently in the legislature allowing sanctioned gambling casinos; the second, a pervasive rumor of an incipient gang war. Though the casino bill is expected to pass, the rumor of gang violence has undermined the legislature’s argument. Carr describes modern-day Boston, a city rife with criminal enterprise and political graft--the predictable “strange bedfellows”--a system that has changed with the times as progress and technology defeat the strong arm of mob rule and street justice. New sentencing laws and “political correctness” have rendered racial epithets and easy violence accountable in a land beset by cell phone cameras and a voracious
Internet. It’s a different city, the wise guys occupying shrinking territory as technology makes crime more difficult, the penalties too high and too risky for the reward. The web presents more sophisticated opportunities, demanding new skills, generally unappealing for old-time mobsters forced to be content with payoffs and drug transactions.
When mob boss Sally Curto’s nephew is gunned down, that death followed by one of his lieutenants, the aging mob boss confides his worries to Bench McCarthy, an Irishman and Sally’s nominal second-in-command. Sally is on the edge of panic, confused by the random and unexpected violence. Who is coming after them? Why? The streets are quiet, no turf wars simmering. Bench suspects something more nefarious at hand, possibly a takeover expedited by political upheaval, the lines between graft and the State House notoriously fluid. With politics in mind, Bench contacts Jack Reilly, who has fallen on hard times and is willing to tackle any kind of job thrown his way. Ironically, Reilly has just been conferring with an important lobbyist invested in the passage of the casino legislation.
Bench is wise to work with Jack, considering Reilly’s current association with the lobbyist.
The landscape is suddenly unpredictable as the pending legislation loses support and the drive-by shootings accelerate, the media clamoring that organized crime is muscling in on the casino action. Conversant with both sides of the law, Jack is comfortable working with Bench. Carr hits his stride as the narratives alternate in an accelerating drama of inside moves, Machiavellian plots, and secret meetings. It’s an excellent display of behind-the-scenes power plays, from the hushed conversations of wealthy men to the raucous arguments of gun-toting lieutenants and a mob boss ready to retaliate with the same level of violence that his enemies have brought to the table. Carr ratchets up the violence, information revealed by politicians and prison contacts, Bench beginning to suspect the method behind the madness, while Reilly ties together loose political threads. The result is swift, brutal and efficient. Boston finally returns to its corrupt status quo, crooks on both sides back in business. Killers opens the door for a brief and deadly view of crime in a new century, by necessity changing disguises but flourishing undetected, or at least unremarked. It’s a heady taste of another world.