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Killer books

April 08, 2006

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FAMILY VALUES? With this self-centered new generation of disloyal mobsters, a godfather just can't get no omerta.

That was among the strange kvetches to emerge from the Mafia murder trial that wrapped up this week in New York. Part "The Sopranos" and part "Chicago," it was pure showbiz, with the stereotypically flamboyant lawyer, the arthritic old mobster who said he was never drawn to the Mafia, "it was just part of my life" and the phalanx of authors, would-be and otherwise, working on their own kill-and-tell books.

The black comedy sometimes obscured the horrors of the case: Two former New York cops took part in eight gruesome murders during their years on both the NYPD and the Luchese family payrolls.

The courtroom complaints came from defense attorney Bruce Cutler, who has an unusual sense of nostalgia, to say the least. Mobsters, he moaned, "once had a code, certain rules" but had grown untrustworthy over time and, faced with jail time, would "wet their pants" and turn state's evidence.

Things were so much better, apparently, in the days of omerta, the code of silence under which mobsters never told on the family. Of course, the code also allowed entrenched criminals to remain free and commit more murders -- but Cutler didn't mention that.

But if Mafia life has grown less loyal, at least it's more literary. Louis Eppolito, one of the men who was convicted, wrote a book about his family's life in the mob.

He should have skipped the publicity tour. The mother of one of his victims recognized him during a TV interview. (In his book, Eppolito portrayed himself as the family oddball who had remained clean all his life, a fable that makes James Frey, author of the too-good-to-check memoir "A Million Little Pieces," appear the model of scrupulous autobiography.)

Columnist Jimmy Breslin is writing a book on the case. So, reportedly, are a couple of the prosecutors. A former Las Vegas showgirl is writing about Eppolito's alleged failure to deliver on a screenplay about her, which sounds like pretty tame reading considering the testimony about a dead canary placed in the mouth of one murder victim. And Eppolito's estranged son, Lou Eppolito Jr., also plans a book about his infamous father.

Cutler is right. In the mob world these days, the family talks. Its members also write. But he probably won't object too strenuously if Richard Gere plays him in the musical.

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