Friday, March 11, 2011

The Cleveland underworld

I've had trouble sleeping the past couple of nights. My mind has been running nonstop since I started reading "The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn Sugar and Blood" and "Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia", both by Lyndhurst Police Chief Rick Porrello. The nonfiction books explore the Cleveland underworld, which I didn't really realize existed until last week when I learned that "Kill the Irishman" was on its way to theaters this weekend.

Porrello has personal ties to the stories: His family was part of the Cleveland mafia, his grandfather and three uncles killed in Prohibition-era violence. (Porrello himself has had an interesting life, which former Staff Writer Jason Lea briefly detailed when Porrello was promoted two years ago.)

"The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia" mostly follows the bootlegging operations of Porrello's family and their friends, the Lonardos. While some historians have pegged the two families as enemies, Porrello contends that they were friends, and it was outsiders who eventually pitted the two against each other in a bloody manner. The primary story of "Rise and Fall" ends when Porrello's grandfather and uncle are killed at the end of Prohibition, but he continues writing (though with fewer details) through the death of the Irishman Danny Greene and the defection of "Big Ange" Lonardo in the 1980s. "Kill the Irishman," on the other hand, briefs the reader on the corn sugar war while focusing more on Greene's rise to power, his death and the fallout that tore apart the Cleveland mafia.

More people will probably be picking up "Kill the Irishman" because of the theatrical ties, but I found "Rise and Fall" to be the more interesting story. The latter was also the more difficult read. Porrello can write, but "Rise and Fall" was not written particularly well. "Kill the Irishman" was a marked improvement and much easier to get through. Throughout both books, I struggled with all of the people involved, their nicknames, their allegiances. It helped that both books included photos that I continuously flipped to in order to figure out whom the author was referring to.

If you want to learn about the Cleveland mafia, the books should be read back to back so you can get a fuller picture of the events that transpired over the 1900s and what got us there. The good books you won't want to put down might end up keeping you awake at night.

-- Cheryl Sadler | | @nhcheryl



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