New York’s finest protection—as long as you’re a relative


A true story, New York Times reporter David Kocieniewski’s The Brass Wall is almost too juicy in its James Ellroy swagger to be believed. At the center is undercover detective #4126, Vinnie Armanti (or Vinnie “Blue Eyes” Penisi, as the local goombahs knew him), the definition of the hard-boiled New York cop. Retired from his undercover career, he’s convinced by another detective to take on one last case. Ostensibly an investigation into the arson fire that took the life of a lieutenant in the Fire Department, it develops into a Byzantine trail leading to mobbed-up Bronx mooks, their crime-syndicate bosses, a coke-snorting cop who just happens to be the son of an influential Internal Affairs inspector, and Dad’s friends in high and low places.

Rounding out this shady tale is a police-brass cadre willing to protect one of their own, no matter the consequences or charges, an up-and-coming crime-fighting New York mayor (guess who) who made his name fighting police corruption but built his career on police support, and a dedicated but small staff of NYPD and FBI investigators determined to see the case through to the end.

Although Kocieniewski reverts to annoying third-person Times style in referring to his own significant role in the outcome and reporting of the case, his narrative slices to the core of the problem—old-school NYPD protectionism in a post-Serpico age supposedly purged of such BS. As described in revelatory detail, this wall is much more impenetrable than the “blue wall of silence,” and stands as a testament to the fact that, despite the Disneyfied reputation of the post-Giuliani, post-9-11 NYPD, there are still some ways in which the cops and the gangsters blur together into one amoral mass of self-interested criminality.

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