By Philip Carlo, HarperCollins (paperback), New York, N.Y. 384 pages, $15.99
‘The most treacherous sociopath we ever dealt with” is how a former federal prosecutor, in a recent New York Times article, referred to Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, the former Luchesse Mafia family underboss. Gaspipe Casso, a highly intelligent and vicious murderer with the ability to generate huge amounts of illicit profits, has been compared to the fictional Hannibal Lecter who dramatically appeared in various books and films that include “Silence of the Lambs.”
In “Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss,” Philip Carlo recounts the life and criminal career of Anthony Casso. The author was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where he notes that he received a “Ph.D. in the ways of the street.” He is the author of two best sellers related to crime and sociopaths: “The Night Stalker” and “The Iceman.” Mr. Carlo possesses a writing style that is fluid and compelling.
Mr. Carlo reveals that he grew up next door to Mr. Gasso who was a close friend of his family. Indeed, at many times during the course of this book, it is abundantly clear that the author is biased very much in favor of Mr. Casso and takes the seeming voice of an advocate of Mr. Casso such as in his descriptions of the federal government’s treatment of Mr. Casso during his debriefing and incarceration. The author’s lack of neutrality in dealing with the subject of this biography naturally will raise questions in the readers mind about the accuracy of the book.
That criticism of the book aside, it reads quickly and provides a variety of interesting insights into the life led by those in organized crime. It is replete with colorful characters, betrayals, love affairs, criminal schemes, mayhem, and multiple murders which all make for high drama and continuous tension. It is one of many books that have been published in recent years related to the Mafia and organized crime. This may be an outgrowth of the public’s interest which was spurred by the federal government’s concerted efforts to attack and dismantle the Mafia. These efforts generated high-profile prosecutions that were significantly publicized in the media. In addition to true-life prosecutions, the public seems to have an insatiable thirst for crime-related books and movies. Some of the most popular have been “The Godfather” and its associated trilogy of films that were originally created by Mario Puzo or based on his work. Indeed, the author at times refers to Casso associates to portray them more vividly in terms of related characters who appeared in “The Godfather.”
Mario Puzo once said in a 1996 interview with Teri Gross, “If I had the nerve I would have become a criminal, but because I didn’t have the nerve, I became a writer.” This was not an affliction that Gaspipe Casso possessed. He was a cold- blooded, calculating and highly efficient killer. His nickname of “Gaspipe” was possibly derived from his mob-enforcer father’s use of a gaspipe to intimidate laborers or from the illegal hooking up of gaspipes. The younger Casso found his life’s labor in criminal pursuits after seeing models in his Brooklyn neighborhood who possessed power and wealth. He was an excellent marksman and hunter who first learned to apply these skills to animals but then pointed them at men. While the author portrays Casso as a caring son and family man, Casso possessed a violent side that possessed him to inflict violence brutally and kill methodically. These attributes served him well in making him a high ranking member of organized crime who was able to earn large sums of money in criminal enterprises.
In “The Godfather,” Clemenza says to his assassin after committing a murder in a car to “leave the gun and take the cannolis.” Perhaps that was sage advice in the context it was offered? However, this book is a white-knuckled roller coaster of a read. It is probably advisable to leave it on the night table and not take it for bedtime reading when you hit the mattress as opposed to the Puzoian “go to the mattresses” in a gangland war. Despite the author’s obvious bias in favor of the book’s named subject and main source of information, it is fascinating reading for any person interested in an insider’s account of the Mafia and the life of a mobster. One caveat is to take the facts offered with a grain of salt or perhaps better a shaker of salt. Yet, it is highly entertaining, fast, and easy reading. And this disclosure is surely no violation of omertà.
Theodore Pollack is senior law librarian in charge of the New York County Public Access Law Library of the Supreme Court.