To this grand story Carr brings absolute fearlessness — he does indeed have “stones” — a phenomenal memory, and an overriding schematic of city and state payrolls involving everyone whose political or criminal DNA is connected to the Bulger family. Howie had the persistence of a Scottish terrier pulling at the pant leg of power when the city and state, the media, and the justice system were all cowed by Billy’s political machine. In denying efforts by a pair of lawyers to uncover evidence that would implicate Billy Bulger in corruption, one judge noted sadly, “You know, we all have to live in this town.”
When Judge George Daher defiantly referred to the autocratic Billy Bulger as “the corrupt little midget,” Carr turned it into the coin of the realm. Mocking and shouting, like the boy who exposed the emperor with no clothes, sometimes with a touch of Tourette’s syndrome, Carr undeniably helped dispel the fear and bring on the fall of the House of Bulger.
But regrettably, despite great expectations, The Brothers Bulger is largely a clip job. That much will be quickly recognized by the Herald reporters who wrote the crime and political-news stories that Carr has pasted up with excerpts from previously reported trial testimony, depositions, and government hearings. Instead of breaking new ground, he’s mostly tilling old fields for tales worked by others, including the Globe Spotlight Team and the two Globe reporters — Dick Lehr and Gerry O’Neill — who published Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal in 2000.
Take away the packaging, and the product is disappointingly small. Examine the smaller print of the handy Amazon.com link on Carr’s Web site, and you’ll read this from Publishers Weekly: “... this account by ... Carr still falls short of being the definitive version he intended ... He fails to bring his protagonists’ inner world to life.”
“None of the incidents or dialogue in this book are [sic] imagined,” Carr writes in the preface. Indeed, there is no evidence that Howie has ever made anything up. Nonetheless, there’s a lot that’s wrong in this book. There are so many errors that Boston’s greatest self-described hack hunter could be eligible for induction into his own halls of hackorama.
Some of the errors are just annoying; others are laughable.
— Consider this story about the Globe’s Kevin Cullen, one of the hardest diggers in the fields of the Bulger crime story (it was Cullen who first started looking into the possibility that Whitey was an FBI informant). Howie writes that because of a threat conveyed or simply made up by the FBI, Cullen was temporarily relocated outside South Boston along with his “wife and young child.” That comes as a surprise to Cullen, who at the time was childless. It’s a venial sin, to be sure. But a simple phone call to Cullen would have gotten it right.
— Take the more important matter of Whitey’s escape after being tipped to the federal indictment in January 1995. In chapter 20 Carr puts Whitey and his girlfriend Catherine Greig in the right car with the wrong plates: the car they drove to Louisiana in 1995 was registered to an alias in New York, not Massachusetts.