Does Whitey Bulger have a secret passion unknown to his chroniclers and fabulists? Yes, and I know what it is.
Saturday, I bought Whitey Bulger, the well-blurbed new book by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy. Fine reporters both with The Boston Globe.
Standing in Porter Square Books, I thumbed past the familiar Alcatraz mug shot of James Joseph Bulger, Jr., looking as tough as the Rock itself. To my surprise, just after the table of contents, I found four very useful maps.
The first two put his life in a context few can appreciate who’ve not lived in the Hub of the Universe. Bulger’s Boston can be captured in a full-page map representing less than 65 square miles. [p. ix] Actually, its dimensions overstate his field of concentration perhaps by 25 percent. The second map, covering two pages, emphasises that point. [pp. x-xi]
The third and fourth maps are of the US. Each is a half page. [p. xii] They show ‘Whitey on the run’. They would be more aptly titled ‘Whitey on his ass’. Few middle class couples, I’d wager, have covered less ground in 16 ½ years than he did with his two girl friends.
It was the second US map, his 16 years accompanied by Cathy Grieg, that caught my attention. It shows a round trip they made in 1996 between Long Beach, Mississippi, and Okemah, Oklahoma.
Why would anyone make a 1340 mile round trip to a town 70 miles from Oklahoma City and 60 miles from Tulsa where evidently he did little more than buy calling cards which he then used? Okemah, population a bit more than 3000, has a Wikipedia entry that strains for significance.
Except for one thing.
Okemah is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, the legendary Woody Guthrie who wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’.
Is Whitey Bulger a deeply closeted folkie? You come up with as plausible an explanation for a round trip to Okemah.
One thing you won’t be able to do with Cullen & Murphy’s Whitey Bulger is check the index for Okemah or Long Beach. Incredibly, astoundingly the index only lists proper names. People’s names, not organisations like the FBI or the Organised Crime Strike Force which play major roles in the Bulger saga.
It’s like publishing a book on John F. Kennedy and only indexing ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’, not ‘Dallas’ or ‘CIA’ or ‘Secret Service’.
Whitey Bulger should be an important reference. Its authors’ reporting did much to force the reluctant authorities to do something – albeit far too little way too late. Their publisher has made it unusable by anyone who hasn’t read the book and indexed it himself. The authors have earned better treatment.
W.W. Norton & Co. has produced an embarrassment.