Suburban Gangsters is a compulsive, hard-hitting and unforgiving view of life among drugs and crime in New York City. While it’s easy and natural to condemn drug dealers and criminals for the damage they cause individuals and society, we should temper any uncompromising judgement to consider how life starts out for these individuals and the environments they are born into. We will always have criminals but how many are we creating because there is no other option? The opening lines of the book ask us not to judge in haste.
A wise man who goes by the name of Jay-Z was once quoted saying, “Don’t knock the hustle.” For those of you who need to be enlightened, he is talking about a person who is being critical or overly judgmental toward someone who was caught up in the hustle game trying to make a living. The hustle could have represented a lot of different things. For my boys and me in New York, it meant either the drug trade or robbery.
The story really starts in 1984 and is told by Patrick Hunter (then aged 18), who grew up in the scenic little town of Huntington, Long Island in New York. Huntington was a sprawling suburban community with old-fashioned values. As a karate and fitness fanatic, Patrick started experimenting with steroids along with his good friend Jake. As two very aggressive and physically capable young men, they learned very quickly that not too many people would confront them. An attribute that would enable them to take control of a neighbourhood drug market.
The story (knowing it is true) is captivating and shocking, in a similar way to Goodfellas (Book: Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi) and Scarface. It is an account that exposes crime and the impact the drug trade, robbery and violence have on families, friends and neighbourhoods. What was quite shocking is how totally unaware the police and specifically FBI were, and possibly still are, to how close they pass to criminal activity on a daily basis. Surveillance and the use of informants have undoubtedly improved significantly since the 1990s, but it still feels like a losing battle.
The detailed first-hand accounts of crimes and incidents were very uncompromising and very well described, with the dialogue underpinning the authenticity of the narration. If I had one criticism, it was that it almost became a catalogue of events and perhaps stilted a more natural flow to the storyline. Ashamed to admit, but with so much brutality happening you almost become immune to the violence and the impact starts to ebb away. It would also be useful to see the characters further developed rather than just know them from their criminal perspective.
What I wasn’t expecting was Patrick’s eventual descent into drug abuse and his total loss of self-control to heroin where unavoidable self-destruction set in. This is a very well written part of the book and I could see how the author felt this pain and emotional connection. Those that selflessly support and provide drug rehabilitation are genuine life-savers.
This is a book I would recommend reading, and knowing it is an autobiography, makes it all the more potent. I would like to thank the author Michael Dineen for providing me with a copy of his book in return for an honest review.