Mark Kamine
September 09, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

After briefly attending to the Mafia’s roots in Sicily and the high points of its Prohibition heyday, Selwyn Raab in Five Families gets down to a thorough, often familiar, occasionally enlightening chronicle of the rise of New York’s five Mafia families and the grinding police work that ensued. Much of the material on John Gotti and Vincent ”Chin” Gigante will be familiar to devotees. Fortunately, Raab also looks at less well-known bosses such as Joe ”The Ear” Massino and Anthony ”Gaspipe” Casso, and marshals impressive detail on law enforcement efforts by professor G. Robert Blakey, principal architect of 1970’s crucial RICO law, and Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and rival of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, more interested in stolen car statistics than the Mafia, earned his agents the moniker ”Fan Belt Inspectors.” Raab sees 9/11, with its resultant diversion of Mob squads to the pursuit of terrorists, as an opening for Mafia reemergence. At least next time, RICO will already be in place.

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