Jimmy Breslin’s hilarious classic novel about the Mafia

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is a classic novel about the Mafia.

So, these wise guys, see, you’ve got a difference of opinion. On one side you’ve got Anthony Pastrumo, Sr., “one of the five big bosses of the Mafia gangsters in New York.” He’s known as “‘Baccala’ by his friends and associates, all of whom share a common feeling toward Baccala. They are scared to death of him.” But not Kid Sally. He’s on the other side, see. “For some time Kid Sally Palumbo and his group have wanted to get their hands on a major revenue-producing enterprise.” But “Baccala was of the opinion that Kid Sally Palumbo couldn’t run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers’ cars.” So, Baccala decides to shut the kid up. He orders up a six-day bike race for Kid Sally to run and tells him he can take the profits from all the gambling. Everybody knows Italians love bike races, right? So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, of course, just about everything in the late Jimmy Breslin’s riotous tale of the cosa nostra in Vietnam-era New York, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a classic novel about the Mafia.


The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin (1969) 249 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)


Now, don’t get the impression that Jimmy Breslin had a low opinion only of the Mafia. The police don’t come off any better. “The only thing not for sale in the 91st Precinct is the captain’s bowling trophy.” And the mayor (John Lindsay at the time)? Fuhgeddabouddit!

Breslin’s comic style is hard to resist. For example, how could you not laugh at this: “Raymond the Wolf passed away in his sleep one night from natural causes; his heart stopped beating when the three men who slipped into his bedroom stuck knives in it.” Or this: “Baccala’s office in Brooklyn is in a building which is listed as the home of the Lancer Trucking Company. There is no trucking company. If Baccala wants a trucking company, he will steal one from a Jew.” No? Okay, I tried.

About the author

Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017) wrote a widely-read column for various New York newspapers, including Newsday and the Daily News. His columns won him the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986. Breslin’s classic novel about the Mafia was just one of the dozens of books he wrote. On several occasions during his long career, his writing caused an uproar and earned Breslin a reputation as pugnacious, sexist, and racist.

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