A Name By Any Other Name: The Top 10 Mobster Nicknames

Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia

“JOEY CUPCAKES” PLED not guilty. That would be Joseph “Joey Cupcakes” Urgitano charged with taking a metal baseball bat and doing a number on two men who were harassing a woman on West 14th Street in New York City last month. For my money, I believe “Joey Cupcakes.” For two reasons: (1) With a nickname like that, dollars to donuts he would stand up for a dame in distress and (2) His lawyer is the great Murray “Don’t Worry” Richman. For this kind of charge, that’s the best kind of legal money can buy.

If you’re going to go into the business of crime (and I’m not saying “Joey Cupcakes” is in that business) then you need yourself a nice nickname, one that people and, more importantly, the press, will remember. Here are 10 of my favorites: Continue reading “A Name By Any Other Name: The Top 10 Mobster Nicknames”


The Summer of Grandma Maria

227098-italy-ischia-view5My life changed for the better in the summer of 1969 when I was sent to live on the island of Ischia, 18 miles off the coast of Naples. I was not quite 15 and was leaving behind a small world of trouble and knew my life was not heading down a rosy path.

And then I met Grandma Maria. Continue reading “The Summer of Grandma Maria”

The Master

Author Elmore Leonard Portrait Session And Book Signing At Book SoupElmore Leonard died at the age of 87, the result of a stroke. The day the stroke hit, Leonard was doing what he had been doing since 1951—the year he sold his first short story, a western, to Argosy Magazine—writing. He was working on his 46th novel, “Blue Dreams.”

Leonard, known as “Dutch” to his friends—a nickname he lifted from a Washington Senators baseball pitcher who shared the same last name—came out of the world of advertising, writing copy during the day and getting up before the sun rose to write two pages of a novel every morning. He would finish one page before he allowed himself a taste of that first cup of coffee. Continue reading “The Master”

The Thrill of Italy: Part 1

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IT IS WHERE I was always meant to be.

Somehow I knew that from that first moment when I stepped off the Alitalia jet and ventured into the chaos of Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. I was 14 years old on that miserably hot and humid day and knew I had found my special place.

It didn’t happen by accident. I was born and raised on the West Side of Manhattan, in Hell’s Kitchen, but I might as well have been in Italy. My mother spoke no English and neither did I until I walked into a first grade classroom. Continue reading “The Thrill of Italy: Part 1”

A Father’s Gift



MY FATHER WAS barely literate and my mother didn’t speak English. Nor did I until I started grade school. And there were no books in the railroad apartment we shared in Hell’s Kitchen other than my collection of Classics Illustrated comics that I kept in a neat pile in a hall bureau. My dad worked as a butcher at the old 14th Street meat market, now known more for its high-end clothing stores and restaurants than for trucks packed with hind quarters bound for uptown destinations. Continue reading “A Father’s Gift”

Notes from Tuscany

View in San Gimignano
(Photo by Daniel Korzeniewski)

I wrote this while I was working on my novel Midnight Angels, which is set in Florence. 

THE MEN AND WOMEN of Tuscany live as if they were fast frozen in the middle of a Renaissance painting. A place of beauty and serenity locked in a timeless frame, their modern-world activities are enveloped in a setting put in place centuries before they were born.

The Renaissance has never left Tuscany. It can be found on any street corner, inside any church, down the halls of many an ancient but preserved palazzo. Continue reading “Notes from Tuscany”

The Ten Must-Read Crime Novels

I write about crime—whether it’s a murder committed by a member of my own family or one that comes out of a world of my own. I also read about crime and have since I was old enough to get a library card. Now, what I consider a crime novel, you might not—for example, I would put THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (my favorite all-time book) in the crime category. But the ones I’ve chosen below, these 10 amazing books, are the ones I’ve gone to school on, learned from and read again and again. They are, for my money, the best the crime arena has to offer:

  1. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. A classic. It is practically a how-to on writing and pacing a crime novel. And the dialogue is as on the money as it is possible to be. Higgins is one of the underrated greats of the crime fiction world.
  2. INNOCENT BLOOD by P.D. James. The only murder happens even before the story begins but this is one of the most chilling reads you will ever encounter. The writing is crisp, clean and elegant and the characters so real you feel as if they’re in the room with you.
  3. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith. We all know the story since it has been copied about two dozen times by movie and TV writers down the years. But this is the one that brought it home and Highsmith writes with a cold detachment that helps ground the story in reality, making it all the more frightening.
  4. COP KILLER by Ed McBain. The first of the 87th series and still one of the best. This series set the standard for police procedurals and inspired a number of TV shows—including HILL STREE BLUES and LAW & ORDER.
  5. THE NOVEMBER MAN by Bill Granger. This is also the first in a series that disappeared way too early. Fast-paced, exciting and filled with enough twists and turns to make you take hard notice.
  6. THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo. This one is the Olympic medal winner in the crime world. It will never be matched. Ever.
  7. THE CONTINETNAL OP by Dashiell Hammett. This collection of stories that brings the OP into the PI arena is Hammett at his best and Hammett at his best beats everyone else in town.
  8. CITY PRIMEVAL: HIGH NOON IN DETROIT by Elmore Leonard. I could pick from as many as 35 Leonard books for this list but this earlier work still rocks and rolls with great dialogue, tons of action and heroes who could easily be villains and bad guys you end up liking more than you probably should.
  9. THE BLOODING by Joseph Wambaugh. Any of his novels could have made my list, but this non-fiction book ranks among his best. It’s factual and that makes its gruesome story all that more amazing—well-written and a stunner of an ending.
  10. IN COLD BLOOD By Truman Capote. It broke EVERY rule of non-fiction and set a new template for how to tell a true crime story. Beautifully written yet never once allows the reader to forget the brutal crime behind the tale.

What are your favorites?