Spinning Mob Tales (or, Why New Englanders Are Different)

As is pretty obvious to anybody who’s read an Exeter book or short story, the mob was present in my small town as a kid. Or, to be completely fair, the Mafia had a presence in my town at various points in the 20th century. (I’ve seen the court records, so that’s not just town tall tales.) Their presence was just common knowledge.

At November’s open mic for the local writers’ group, another native New Englander was sitting across from me. Jeff’s a poet, and he grew up in Rhode Island, 15 minutes from Providence, though he would point out that pretty much everywhere in Rhode Island can be defined as 15 minutes from Providence. When he heard I had mobsters in my books, we were off and running.

Jeff talked about how the dad of one of his third-grade classmates arrested Patriarca and everybody in class knew that meant that kid’s dad was going to die. I had just read the Boston Mob Handbook (great read!) a few weeks earlier and found somebody from Franklin (my hometown) in the book — Larry Zannino was the top enforcer for the New England Mafia. The story about when the town took the Zannino farm to use as a school is a tale for another day, though I did tell it that night.

Jeff and I are trading stories back and forth during the social hour. One of the other two people at our table has family in Connecticut and Rhode Island, plus she’s been reading, editing and critiquing Exeter stories for two years now, so she wasn’t at all fazed. Emily, on the other hand, was having a hard time believing that it was that common.

Now, not every New England town has mob history, whether you’re talking Mafia or Irish mob, but in states that are geographically small and densely settled (at least in southern New England), it’s not uncommon for people to have these kind of stories. At least that’s been my experience. As we tried to explain that to Emily, it got me thinking about this thread of history (and reality still, in some towns). Exeter’s fictional, obviously, but I really enjoy trying to capture that particular element of New England in my stories. I’m also going to try and start telling some of the tales I’ve heard over the years — at least the ones that won’t get me sued or otherwise — on here from time to time.