Whitey Bulger and the book industry

Where to look for Boston gangster Whitey Bulger? Why, bookstores, of course!

At least half a dozen books have been written about James "Whitey" Bulger since his disappearance in the mid-1990s.

Tracking known criminals by visiting bookstores may not be the kind of gambit you often see on TV crime shows. But in the case of fugitive gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, it's apparently a useful method – because Bulger is a reader.

Or so The Boston Globe reported yesterday. The Globe wrote that FBI agents were visiting bookstores last week in the city of Victoria on Canada's Vancouver Island. Apparently working on some tip that Bulger could be in the area, the FBI wanted to alert bookstore employees to be on the lookout for Bulger, who has been on the lam since the mid-1990s.

If the FBI had hoped to surprise Bulger, however, their efforts were likely sunk by an unnamed book vendor who called the press with the news.

But before the item made headlines, canvassing bookstores may have been a credible notion. According to the Globe, among personal belongings of Bulger's seized by the FBI in various safe-deposit boxes were large numbers of books. Bulger apparently favors travel, crime, war, and history titles, and his eclectic holdings included books by Anthony Bruno, George Anastasia, and Tom Clancy.

On the practical side, the Globe says Bulger also owned books on topics such as “ 'civilized retirement’ in Britain and Ireland, and 'surprise retirement havens behind the Iron Curtain.' ’’

But Bulger's fondness for reading is not his only connection to the book industry. As the Globe points out, "Since Bulger fled, at least a half-dozen books have been written about him."

Howie Carr, the author of one of those books ("The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century") had his own take on the latest news from the Bulger investigation. "Even if they inevitably do turn out to be mirages, Whitey sightings don’t bother me," he wrote in yesterday's Boston Herald. "They sell books," adding a taunt directed at Bulger: "Come out with your hands up, Whitey! You’re just what I need to get a sixth printing for the paperback."

There are plenty of good reasons for the authorities to continue to pursue a serious search for Bulger. This is a man wanted in connection with 19 killings, in addition to a federal racketeering indictment.

Sadly, however, Carr says that he is losing hope that the 80-year-old fugitive will ever be apprehended. At this point, he says, a Whitey Bulger sighting "generates mostly yawns."

One way or the other, given the publicity over this latest effort, it is now unlikely that Bulger will allow himself to be taken in a bookstore. In fact, if he has any smarts, from here on out he'll be ordering all his books on an iPad.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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