New book by retired Brooklyn College prof is violent true story: Italian cops vs. mafia

October 27, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Paul Moses’ gripping new book tells a story that begins in Sicily on Friday, March 12, 1909, at 8:45 p.m. Three gunshots thundered in the night, and then a fourth. Two men fled, and investigators soon discovered who they had killed: Giuseppe Petrosino, the legendary American detective whose exploits in New York were celebrated even in Italy.

“The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia” by veteran New York City journalist and historian Paul Moses explores the lives of the nationally celebrated detectives who followed in the slain Petrosino’s footsteps as leaders of the New York City investigative squad: Anthony Vachris, Charles Corrao, and Michael Fiaschetti. Drawing on new primary sources such as private diaries and city, state, and federal documents, this dramatic narrative history follows the Italian Squad across the first two decades of the twentieth century as its detectives battled increasingly powerful gangsters, political obstacles and deeply ingrained prejudice against their own beloved Italian immigrant community. 

Vachris, Corrao, and Fiaschetti became, like Petrosino, famous for meting out tough justice to criminals who  comprised the “Black Hand.” Beyond trying to prevent horrific crimes — nighttime bombings in crowded tenements, kidnappings that targeted children at play, gangland shootings that killed innocent bystanders — the Italian Squad commanders hoped to persuade society of what they knew for themselves: that their fellow immigrant Italians, so often maligned, would make good American citizens.

In this explosive story, Moses carefully strips away the mythology that has always enveloped the Italian Squad and offers instead a nuanced portrait of brave but flawed men who fought the good fight for their people and their city.

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Paul Moses, author of The Italian Squad. Photo: Mike Moses.

Moses, a Professor Emeritus of Journalism at CUNY Brooklyn College and a former reporter and editor at Newsday. His third book, The Italian Squad, has been praised in all the right corners covered by published critics. Publisher’s Weekly declared “Moses provides the definitive account of a fascinating chapter in New York City’s law enforcement history. That dogged pursuit of truth over salaciousness lends the volume authority, which Moses supplements with brisk pacing. New York history nuts will be in heaven.”

Kirkus Reviews called it “A well-researched examination of a little-known corner of the  

NYPD’s past.” Other praise from early readers of the book include remarks from Daniel Czitrom, author of “New York Exposed.”

“An original and deeply researched book that challenges many of the myths distorting our understanding of organized crime in the twentieth century,” Czitrom said “Paul Moses gracefully conjures the gritty world of Italian policemen, the struggles of the immigrant community they served, the complex realities of NYPD politics, and the formation of a transnational underworld stretching from New York to Sicily.”

Peter Quinn, mystery writer, historian, and author of “Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York,” called “The Italian Squad” “A thoughtful, enlightening, deeply researched exploration of the origins of organized crime in the United States. Moses brings to light the real-life origins of the Mafia and the attempts of Italian-American members of the NYPD to bring it to heel. The issues of ethnicity and criminality that Moses addresses are as timely today as they were a century ago. The Italian Squad is an engrossing read from first page to last.”

Maria Laurino, author of “The Italian Americans: A History,” expressed that “In this absorbing tale of a New York City plagued by bombings, blackmail, and child kidnappings, the unsung heroes of The Italian Squad battle ruthless Black Hand thugs as well as fierce Italian-American prejudice.  Moses skillfully tells the little known story of how a group of undercover cops risked their lives to help a  vulnerable Italian immigrant population grow and thrive.”

Matt Birkbeck, author of “The Life We Chose” and “The Quiet Don,” said “In this impeccably researched book, Paul Moses does a masterful job bringing to life the brave men on the front lines of what was a new era in law enforcement. “The Italian Squad” is a must-read for any student of  history and organized crime.”

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