Deal With the Devil by Peter Lance

Harper Collins
Pub date: July 2nd, 2013

I am what you could call an amateur mafia historian. I find that shit fascinating. I read just about everything I can get my hands on. Lately I’ve noticed things in new releases. What I thought was true history has started to change. This thing called the freedom of information act has leveled the old playing field. I’m beginning to see that many of the books I one time took as gospel are actually no better than fiction. People are starting to see the difference between the facts and the legend.

Greg Scarpa was a capo for the Colombo crime family from the early 1960s until his death from AIDS in the early 1990s. He had many nicknames including the grim reaper and the killing machine for obvious reasons. Some say his body count was 50+. Besides murder, he did it all. Loansharking, robbery, drugs, the list goes on. Oh, the other thing he did besides all I mentioned above was act as a confidential informant for the FBI for over 30 years. He did quite a bit for the FBI. Not only did he supply information on just about everybody he knew in the mafia, he also did some favors for his friends in the FBI. During the dark days of the civil rights movement in the early 60s, Scarpa went south and used his skills to help the FBI solve some historical crimes. Remember the 3 civil rights workers who disappeared? They made a movie about it called Mississippi Burning. Anyway Scarpa is the reason the bodies of those workers were found. Now something I do know about mafia history, is that statistically from 1950 to 1990, the average mafia member had an over 90% chance of winding up dead or in prison. Scarpa did a grand total 30 days. He defied some serious odds and I’ll tell you how. The FBI protected him.

Peter Lance, author of Deal With The Devil, tells a very unsettling story. He got over 1,000 pages of unclassified FBI documents that list secrets hidden for over 40 years. Some go all the way back to J. Edgar Hoover. Lance, in one book, managed to render meaningless god knows how many books I’ve read in my life. All this history I took as gospel and it was nothing but lies. Lance tells the story of a member of the mafia who to outside appearances was just another soldier but in reality was the man behind the curtain like the wizard of oz.
Scarpa is unlike any other criminal I’ve ever read about. He gave up countless mafia members to the FBI while at the same time spreading disinformation about his own activities about others. Oh yeah, he was also a walking talking crime wave although I think I’ve already made that point clear. Something all those documents show is that Scarpa did whatever he wanted and the FBI knew and gave him info that led to deaths.

The book is an impressive piece of work. It’s an almost exhaustive read. The only thing I didn’t like was the style it was written in. it reads like a case study which I found quite annoying at times. I would have preferred it in a straightforward true crime history style like so many other books I’ve read on the subject of the mafia. What I absolutely loved was the constant surprise that almost every other page brought me. As I read this book I discovered so much I thought I knew was wrong. I discovered things happened for different reasons. It was a shock to me. The things Scarpa did were both evil and fascinating. This is a book that has true potential to change history. If you want to get rocked, you need to read it

Dave Wahlman