CHIN: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante Reviewed

Larry McShane
Kensington Publishing 

You all have heard that quote about the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist right?
Maybe he just hid in plain sight. Maybe he made it so you thought nothing of him or were forced to look away in repulsion. Maybe he put up such a front that you would think the last person that this could ever be was the Devil. Or made himself look so absurd and totally crazy that you never in a million years would take him serious.

There is ALWAYS a method to the madness.

The expression crazy like a fox exists for a reason.Vincent_Gigante_NYWTS

That brings us to Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

Gigante was either a genius or lucky. I’m having trouble making that call.

The book opens with a recount of American Mafia history from the 1920s to the 1950s. If you have done the type of reading and research I have, you know this stuff already. However once Gigante appears the story deviates. It’s not the typical dropping bodies and making money rise of a gangster. Gigante’s first notable act was being the shooter in the botched hit of Frank Costello. Costello was a contemporary of Lucky Luciano. In 1957 Gigante made the attempt of Costello’s life and it wasn’t a bad attempt. Costello took a round to the head and survived, after which he opted to retire. From that point on Gigante’s early years were rather tame. Not what I expected.

Fast forward to 1970. Gigante gets charged with bribery on New Jersey police officers. Almost overnight, his whole mode of operations changed. Psychiatry reports start indicating a history of depression, schizophrenia, etc. Like I said, this was almost out of nowhere. His appearance is constantly described as unkempt and un-shaved. But at the same time a slow but steady rise in the ranks of the mafia has begun. Seemingly all of a sudden Gigante is a force to be reckoned with. This rise also coincides with many bloody deaths and notable figures. Joey Gallo and Angelo Bruno. Henry Hill and Sammy Gravano.

As I hit this point of the book, I realized if you haven’t done as much reading on the subject matter as I have, this is not the book to start with. If you have, you’ll have a blast. You’ll start to question histories you’ve already read and the big picture will change.

You’ll also start to become fascinated with Gigante. By 1980, his crazy act is in full swing. He has developed a wide reach. In the mafia, nobody questions his act. It’s an open secret. It’s his way of doing business. I just found myself wondering how he did it. It’s unclear. His fingerprints and influence are all over some of the American Mafia’s most notable points of history. Meanwhile by 1982, Gigante has begun a new habit of checking into mental hospitals for periodic vacations. He is also now sporting a new look in public…. pajamas, bathrobe and slippers. This is a stark difference from 99.9% of the rest of the mafia. I don’t need to explain this. Also in the early 80s, the FBI has now devoted huge manpower to go after the entire American Mafia. Gigante in turn ramped up the crazy.

Now the public myth starts to form. Wandering the streets, slack jawed, talking to parking meters and urinating in public.

Something I really did admire about Gigante was he took care of his crew. He took very little to no money from them. This is was a reason for his longevity. The government didn’t get him in a courtroom for a trial until 1997. Yes, that is a direct result of his crazy act. However you can’t stay at the top like that unless you take care of your crew. They were loyal, they didn’t plot against him like Gotti did with Castellano. This is where so many other mafia bosses fucked up, they got greedy and courted the public image. Gigante was smart enough to know this would never work. When the government finally got him in the early 2000s, he ran his family from prison until his death. This all has to be some kind of record.

Long live the mad.

Dave Wahlman