There isn’t a high enough pedestal for Richard Kuklinski to put himself on. This book is a true story about the life of the sociopathic hitman and I use the term “true” very loosely.
Kuklinski was a Polish contract killer who operated out of New Jersey and is reputed to have killed over 100 people from the 1960’s to his arrest in 1986 following an undercover case. He was convicted of 5 murders and spent the rest of his life in prison, dying in 2006 whilst intending to testify against Sammy Gravano, John Gotti’s underboss. In this book, Kuklinski claims to have participated in some of the most high profile Mafia killings of the second half of the 21st century, including Jimmy Hoffa, Carmine Galante, Paul Castellano and Roy DeMeo, who he claimed to have worked for in several hits and introduced Kuklinski to several high up Syndicate members. He performed all his killings with chilling indifference, varying his methods from guns, to knives, to poison in order to avoid detection. His way of freezing victims to prevent time of death being determined earned him the nickname, The Iceman.
The book itself is a compelling reading. Philip Carlo had many meetings with Kuklinski inside prison and we really do get a vivid picture of his life – his troubled childhood to an abusive father, his disturbed brother, his broken marriage, his love for his family and his alternate persona as a cordial neighbour. This biography, more than a lot, gets inside Kuklinski’s head, to the point where the reader actually feels like they know him. Regardless of the validity of some of his claims, which I will get to shortly, Kuklinski is a fascinating character, so full of rage and hatred to the point where he is a human pressure cooker, a callous man uncaring to the suffering of the others. A violent man, the abused becomes an abuser. I do recommend watching some of the interviews on HBO just to even look at him. There’s nothing more scary than what is real. Despite his tough upbringing, he is pure evil. All this is true and incredibly intriguing. The rest of Kuklinski’s claims leave a lot to be desired.
First of all, the hits which I spoke about in the first paragraph are completely false. Without any shred of a doubt. Kuklinski has as much to do with these as he does with the Kennedy assassination (which surprisingly, he doesn’t take credit for). Hoffa was far too cautious a man at that point in his life as he strived to take control of the Teamsters. Regardless of any other heresay about the hit, Hoffa simply wouldn’t have gotten into the car with someone like Kuklinski. Castellano was far too important a target to delegate to someone else. The main point here is that the Mafia is a secret organisation full of experienced killers. Why would they hire a Polish hitman, who doesn’t follow the code of omerta and can’t be trusted, to murder one of their leaders? Not to mention the fact that a 6ft4, 250 pound behemoth isn’t the most inconspicuous man in the world. This brings me to another point where the book can’t go 5 pages without Kuklinski murdering someone. I’ve never been to America but it seems everyone there is really eager to antagonise a man of Kuklinski’s stature. It makes Kuklinski out to be almost supernatural, a creature out of fantasy as opposed to real life which has forensics, witnesses and common sense, none of which seem to exist when someone cuts Kuklinski off in traffic and berates him for no reason.
It’s qute baffling that Carlo, a man who has been around this world, takes everything Kuklinski says without hard evidence or general skepticism. It puts all the other assertions into disrepute. Kuklinski himself is made to be the lesser the several evils, killing an associate intending on poisioning a town’s water supply and rescuing trafficked children from a house. It all comes across as highly fantastical. The book goes out of it’s way to create a myth out of Kuklinski. Whilst he is a killer and cold blooded, most of his confirmed hits are people he knew from money laundering and pornography dealing. More than likely, he did some very low level work as a contract killer and may have killed a few unlucky people in the wrong place at the wrong time, but not much more than that. Certainly not any Mafia killings.
Whilst it’s validity is seriously compromised with no index or quotations, it’s still a gripping read. It’s entertaining the whole way through and it’s interesting to meet all these characters, from the mobsters, lowlifes and the police attempting to ensnare Kuklinski, which is actually the best part of the book. All the dialogue and descriptions of locations give it the quality of a novel. It’s quite repetitive though, you’ll be reading key phrases and thoughts repeatedly throughout.
The main question is should it be read and I think it should. The best thing to compare it to is Boardwalk Empire, a fictitious version of a real person interacting with historical crime figures. It is well written and features an undeniably engaging figure but it just simply isn’t believable. If you’re able to distance yourself from the facts, it is enjoyable. The film version starring Michael Shannon is also pretty good and excludes some of the more incredible statements. Take the two together for a frightening experience.