Rating: 4 Stars
On Tuesday, May 22, 1989, a man named Henry Hill did what seemed to him the only sensible thing to do: he decided to cease to exist.
Henry Hill was just a kid when he started running errands for the guys hanging out at the taxicab stand across the street. Soon, he’s part of an organized crime family in New York. Wiseguy tells the story of his life and his schemes, including the infamous Lufthansa heist.
In the end, he becomes a witness for the FBI, helping them put his former friends and associates behind bars and joining the witness protection program.
His story was turned into the movie GoodFellas.
This book is a fascinating look into organized crime. Henry Hill wasn’t at the top of the foodchain, but he knew a lot of people and was kind of involved with everything.
As a narrator and protagonist, Henry was really fascinating and oddly charismatic. Sometimes it was easy to forget that he was a criminal, for whom scheming was natural. And that he was someone who didn’t care one bit about other people.
All I needed was the six hundred bucks for the girl’s father and I had a slave.
Whatever Henry did, wherever he was, he was making up new ways to make money – illegally of course.
And the money! It was incredible how much these guys made. Yet somehow, they lost it again just as fast. Henry made thousands of dollars regularly, but when he had to go to prison, the money was just gone really fast.
For someone like me it was just really difficult to understand how so much money could disappear so quickly. How can you spend so recklessly? How can you not think about the future?
And yet Henry never bothered to accumulate money. In fact, as far as Henry could tell, none of the young men his age were saving any of the money they made.
There was also a lot of violence. It was doled out so casually. It really gave me the creeps.
There aren’t any great arguments or finger-biting curses like in Mafia movies. Your murderers come with smiles. They come as friends, people who have cared deeply about you all your life, and they always come at a time when you are at your weakest and most in need of their help and support.
What I did find confusing were all the names and different schemes, all running at the same time. It was really hard to keep track of the different people and there were times I was utterly lost.
The book finishes with Henry in the Witness Protection Program, living a pretty decent life with his family. I wondered, however, how someone like him would deal with a normal life. Cooking up schemes, conning and stealing seemed to be his nature. It came so easily to him. He never cared about the rules and while he wasn’t the most violent guy mentioned in the book (rather restrained compared to the others), violence was still a part of his life.
And now all that is over, and that’s the hardest part. Today everything is very different. No more action. I have to wait around like everyone else. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a shnook.
Turns out, he couldn’t and was kicked out of the program.
A fascinating look into organized crime.