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Rat Bastards

Rat Bastards

3.9 43
by John "Red" Shea, Mark Wahlberg (Introduction)

You've met the Italian mob in The Godfather, now welcome to the real-life world of Irish
America's own murderous clan of organized crime

The man who has remained silent for more than a decade finally speaks, revealing the gritty true story of his life inside the infamous South Boston Irish mob led by the elusive, Machiavellian


You've met the Italian mob in The Godfather, now welcome to the real-life world of Irish
America's own murderous clan of organized crime

The man who has remained silent for more than a decade finally speaks, revealing the gritty true story of his life inside the infamous South Boston Irish mob led by the elusive, Machiavellian kingpin Whitey Bulger, who to this day remains on the lam as one of the world's Ten Most Wanted criminals, second only to Osama bin Laden.

John "Red" Shea was a top lieutenant in the South Boston Irish mob, rising to this position at the age of twenty-one. Thus began his tutelage under the notorious Irish godfather James "Whitey" Bulger. An ice-cold enforcer with a legendary red-hot temper, Shea was a legend among his Southie peers in the 1980s. From the first delivery truck he robbed at thirteen to the start of his twelve-year federal sentence for drug trafficking at twenty-seven, Shea was a portrait in American crime -- a terror, brutal and ruthlessly ambitious. Drug dealer, loan shark, money launderer, and multimillion-dollar narcotics kingpin, Shea was at the pinnacle of power -- until the feds came knocking and eventually obliterated the legendary mob in a well-orchestrated sweep of arrests, fueled by insider tips to the FBI and DEA.

While Bulger's other top men turned informant to save their own hides, Shea alone kept his code of honor and his mouth shut -- loyalty that earned him a dozen years of hard time even as the man he was protecting turned out to be, himself, a rat. For in the end, in a remarkable show of betrayal, Bulger turned out to be the FBI's "main man" and top informant -- tipping off the feds for decades while still managing to operate one of the most murderous and profitable organized crime outfits of all time.

In Rat Bastards, Shea brings that mysterious world and gritty urban Irish American street culture into sharp focus by telling his own story -- of his fatherless upbringing, his apprenticeship on the tough streets of Southie, and his love affair with trouble, boxing, and then the gangster life. In prose that is refreshingly honest, personal, and surprisingly tender, Shea tells his harrowing, unflinching, and unapologetic story. A man who did the crime, did the time, and held fast to the Irish code of silence, which he was raised to follow at any cost, Shea remains a man of honor and in doing so has become a living legend. One of the last of a dying breed, a true stand-up guy.

Shea expects no forgiveness and makes no excuses for the life he chose. His story is intense, compelling, and in your face.

Editorial Reviews

Liz Smith
“...the hottest Irish-American mob story of all time.”
Boston Herald
“...dish-a-thon on Whitey Bulger.”
The Improper Bostonian
“...the only memoir told from the perspective of a mobster who refused to betray the code of silence.”
Publishers Weekly
Shea-who at age 20 was the drug boss for South Boston Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger and later served 12 years in federal prison for drug trafficking (yes, he was given the opportunity to rat, but, "like a man," he didn't)-gives gangster honor a bare-knuckled workout in his memoir, a slick read dripping with the underworld holy trinity of sex, drugs and violence. Born in 1965 into a "fucked up family" in South Boston, Shea traded a foundering boxing career for a gig making $4,000 a night selling cocaine and marijuana. Before long, Bulger took him under his wing and, being a tough and honorable guy, Shea ascended the ranks and had a crew working for him before he was busted and did his time. To hear Shea tell the story, he's about the only guy in South Boston who can keep his trap shut-including Bulger, who turned rat and is now in hiding-once the cuffs are on. And though his unrelenting swagger can wear thin and the writing has lackluster moments, Shea's story is a bawdy page-turner in the Iceman tradition that true crime fans will enjoy. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Rat Bastards

The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster
By John Shea

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 John Shea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060837160

Chapter One


I walked out of federal prison on August 7, 2002, into a perfect summer day. The first thing I noticed was the air -- it was clean and warm, like fresh laundry just out of the dryer. After being in the joint for so long, where all you smell day after day is sweat and vinegar and bad food, I felt the air hit me like the most beautiful scent. And this is New Jersey we're talking about. Fort Dix, my home sweet home for nine long years. Good-fuckin'-bye.

Last time I'd been a free man, I was dressed in an Armani suit, a Calvin Klein shirt, and Bally shoes. I even had Armani underwear. That was nearly twelve years ago, when I checked in to the federal prison in Milan, Michigan. Now, one welcome transfer later, my time was up. I got sentenced to twelve and I did my twelve, technically for drug trafficking. In truth, I did my time because the feds wanted Whitey Bulger, the boss of the South Boston Irish Mafia. Because I was Red Shea, Whitey Bulger's young apprentice, I was supposed to be the weak link, the kid, the guy who would flip. They were dead fucking wrong. I was never going to be rat. I'd rather be dead. So they hit me with some heavy time for afirst bit.

An Officer Kennedy -- a nice guy, a good guy, he showed me respect: How ya doin', Shea? What's goin' on? How're your Red Sox doin'? and so forth -- led me out of the administration building and down toward the checkpoint. Dix isn't your average prison, being a former army base, with checkpoints and whatnot, not to mention softer bunks. I wasn't in Armani no more, but Levi's and new sneakers sent me by the guys.

I said to Kennedy, "Smell that?"

He said, "What's that, Shea? You like that?"

"Yes I do, Officer."

I took some deep drafts of it. Even though I was looking at a perimeter scarred by barbed wire and fences and double fences and was walking on dusty ground, I could look up: "Nothing but blue skies, motherfucker."

"Watch your language, Red," he said "And your ass. It's bumpy out there."

I shook his hand. My eyes were watering, from the smells. I had just turned thirty-seven years old, and I'd gotten my life back.

Beyond the checkpoint were some familiar faces waiting in a car: George and Michael Hogan, sons of one of the guys I'd been indicted with, and my attorney and friend, Fran Hurley. Handshakes and a quick hug all around. We were Southie Irish guys, not given to a lot of emotional stuff. But we were Irish, and the Irish have a sentimental streak for sure, going back to the Famine, I guess, and having to leave the Old Country. The old Partin' Glass and whatever. They were happy to see me, and I sure as fuck was happy to see them. I sat in the front seat. We talked about the Red Sox -- they were sucking in August, no pitching whatsoever after Pedro and Derek Lowe. I turned the radio off -- in no mood for gangsta rap, no offense. The traffic was bad, and soon the smell of paradise gave over to the smell of the turnpike and, like Springsteen says, the swamps of Jersey. We could see a waterfront with containers stacked high just like in Southie. Newark, I guess, with tall ship-container cranes soaring over everything, which prompted a discussion about work.

"There's the longshoremen," said Frannie. His dad had been a longshoreman back in the day when they did most everything by hand and guys got maimed and killed regularly. Either from the work or from the fights during and after work, with the metal hooks they all carried. Most of the longshoremen were either from Southie or from Charlestown. Frannie, as always, was trying to be helpful in his gentle way. He was suggesting I work the Boston waterfront. George mentioned all the construction going on in downtown Boston. And, also as always, the Big Dig. Work, work, work.

"Fuck you guys!" I finally had to shout. I wasn't boiling over or nothing -- but first the joint, then the fucking union hall? Give me a break. The only thing I wanted right now was a good fuckin' meal.

"You're right," said Frannie. "We've got better things to do." He popped in a CD. Van Morrison, Moondance. The guys laughed, and so did I. Frannie finally found the tunnel to Manhattan.

They'd booked a suite at the Hilton on Fifty-third Street -- living room, little kitchen, big fucking bed, and an attached bedroom. We checked in, and I was starving, so I said, "Let's go to Smith & Wollensky's," my favorite steak house in New York. Back in the day, when I was on top, I got used to the best -- in Boston, New York, Montreal, Miami Beach. I stayed in the best, ate like a king. Two-, three-hundred-dollar bottles of wine. I ordered a steak that night, rare, with baked potato and creamed spinach. We had some wine. Rothschild. We got mellow. We didn't talk about work anymore, thank God.

"How's my mother?" Frannie said she was good, doing well, she was living in an elderly apartment complex just off the expressway in Dorchester. It's only a short bus ride to her job at a Southie nursing home. My mother was getting on in years. I knew from phone calls and letters that she was as feisty as ever and hanging in there. She's a tough woman. She raised me and my three older -- much older -- sisters, with no man around, my father having been thrown out just after I was born. She did everything she could for us. She worked two, three jobs at a time. Cleaning homes, anything she could to make ends meet. But she was harsh, very harsh. I'd see her as soon as I got back.


Excerpted from Rat Bastards by John Shea Copyright © 2006 by John Shea. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Liz Smith
“...the hottest Irish-American mob story of all time.”

Meet the Author

John "Red" Shea, forty, completed his twelve-year federal prison sentence in 2002 and is now living on the right side of the law and working in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Rat Bastards 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is one fabulous book to read.i feel that this book is important because it gives a strong insight into the thinking,voicing and atmosphere of southie.many years from now this book will give readers a real feel of what it was like to be entrenched in the southie mystique.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wish I could give this book zero stars, because that's what it deserves. I have spoken to many people involved with Whitey and no one has ever mentioned that Red Shea was as important as he makes himself to be, infact I heard his purpose was a scapegoat. This book was probably the worst of all the books I have read involving Whitey.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My wife bought me this book because she knows I love anything about South Boston and the Irish Mob. Well, she made a big mistake here. She bought the one book that was so dull and stupid I stopped reading it halfway through. Don't waste your time on this book. Take mine. It's in the trash where it belongs. I didn't learn one new detail from this book, except that John Shea is so full of himself it's amazing he can stand up.
lawmarine32 More than 1 year ago
Although Rat Bastards is an entertaining read, one cannot overlook the fact that it is written by an individual who believes its acceptable to be a drug dealing thug as long as you don't tell on anyone else. Shea's shots at Whitey Bulger are well deserved but who truly was the idiot?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hope_xo More than 1 year ago
Best book i've read in a long time. By far, you need to read it for yourself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
calen181 More than 1 year ago
This was a very entertaining and inspiring read for me. I love the look inside the Irish Mob at a different angle.

I'm torn between excitement and dread to see what Mark Wahlberg will do with it as a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading John Shea's autobiography Rat Bastards. Rat Bastards is an honest look into the life of a real human being that happened to be in the Irish Mafia. Filled with colorful rich and memorable characters, this is like a shot of testosterone for the weak, a page turner that is at times uncomfortable, at times sentimental but always unapologetically real.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book over the weekend. I grew up in the projects in Southie. It is not a good book, its a great book. John Shea's choices in life were unfortunate, but his dignity and his manhood remained intact. He can walk down every street in Southie and be respected and admired for doing something so unique these days, accepting responsibility for his actions. Unlike some of the other so called gangsters writing books these days. It's not about being a gangster, its about being a man. The book eloquently takes you into that world and how and why John became the man he is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit I did not finish this book. I tried, but I could not. I've read every Whitey book out there and found something worthwhile in every one. But there was not one detail in this book that made it worthy of being called a Bulger insider's book. Shea comes across as a man out to prove his manhood, an intention he does not fulfill. Worse, the book is just plain boring. The only interesting part of the book is the title and it has nothing to do with the book. Save your money. This book simply is not worth it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a two read book. The first reading takes you into the world of the gangster and corruption but the second reading brings you to the point of the story. That is your word is your bond, that there is honesty and honor no matter what the circumstances. I have given this book to friends here in the USA and Europe and they have all felt the same. That somehow this young man rose above the gangster mentality and kept his inner self true to himself. His word was his bond and he kept that bond in spite of adversity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being only 15 years old my knowlage of books isn't as extensive as i whould like. But since i started reading and learning about the mafioso ways and dealings from family members who have lived the experiances ive come to understand them. As this is a true story i respect and admire the way Shea could take his punisment like a man,not a rat. I whould like to chalange anybody to read this book and not feel the same way.This book is a great,true story about South Bostons only honorable mafia boss.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and kept my interest throughout. John Shea makes no excuses for his mistakes. He's not asking for forgiveness. Although I would agree that he writes with a sense of cockiness, I would hazard a guess that in that business you would have to be cocky to survive. I found his passages about his girlfriend touching and sad, for both of them. Some of the negative reviews that I saw seem to be written by people who didn't read the book at all, but rather have a personal ax to grind. They would do well to remember that this is his story as he remembers it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I simply can not believe that anyone would want to read this book, which is not only written poorly, but tries to make a big deal out of the fact that a lousy drug dealer went to jail and served his time. I'm no prude but I got sick reading about how Shea is trying to prove what a man he is. If he was a man, he would never have talked about the women in his life the way he did. But the worse thing about this book is that it is boring, a complete waste of paper. Shame on you, John Red Shea, for being such pathetic criminal. And trying to make a buck out fo the fact that you went to jail for your crime. SOmething is wrong here. I think it must start with the publisher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
That is such a fitting title from an author that once tried to cut himself a deal to rat on a group of Columbian drug-lords in Chicago just to save himself from some jail time. But John ¿Red¿ Shea would have you believe that he was the stand up guy that he portrays in his fairy tale. But it was not until after a deal with the government fell through that he decided to abide by the Gangster¿s Code of Silence. Everyone from Southie that has lived there knows the names Pat Nee, Kevin Weeks and Jimmy Bulger but why is it that many people never heard of ¿Red¿ Shea. Well, I think that I can answer that, it is quite simply because ¿Red¿ Shea was not a big drug kingpin that he leads his reader¿s to believe. He was a punk that tried to placate himself as a gangster by telling people he was down with Whitey and Kevin. But in reality everyone knew he was just a kid with a chip on his shoulder looking to score points with the big boys. He never ran a drug cartel for anyone. He was just a petty street dealer that got his rocks off by videotaping himself with very young girls, because every woman knew what a loser he was, and how full of it he was. In his book he makes references to people that are not even real, there was no Micky O. in Southie. If you want to read a real fact based account of Southie¿s Irish mob, then pick up Brutal, because it was written by a real insider to South Boston and the Irish Mob, Whitey¿s real right hand man, Kevin Weeks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one night because I was unable to put it down. It brought me back to the place I came from and the values I learned as a child. John Red Shea grew up in the same neighborhood I did only much later. He shows that what we learned is still there, at least in one man, that our word is our bond. Whether we agree with the path his life took, we cannot in any way disagree with the fact that he gave his word and with it he honored himself. I would be proud to shake this man's hand.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best memoir's i have ever read. john makes you feei like you are him while reading this book. It comes to life only becouse he walks you through his life step by step. I feel this was written right from the heart from beginning to the end a fine read, not like these other prangsters oh, i mean gangsters. I get a kick out of these guys they are makeing money writeing a book based on lies. they also are a bunch of rats and yes you all know who you are. i can only say this RED SHEA talked the talk and walked the walk he defines the word solid, great work RED AWESOME book. i feel like i know you although i don't i would like to shake your hand, good luck in the future son.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. Always kept your attention. I am from Mass. but never paid too much attention to the Whitey Bulger stuff. Sometime he goes back over things he already talks about (talking in circles), but kind of refreshes it again. But all in all, It really got my attention and couldn't put this book down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John reminds me of Japanese Samurai because he took responsibility as a man and made no excuse for what he had to face or didn't blame his upbringing or his family.This story serves a good example why crims doesn't pay.I am so lucky to meet this book and really enjoyed it. Great job John Red Shea!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is impossible to put down. If you like true crime, this is your book. It's a no-nonsense look into Boston organized crime, and the code it follows.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book pulls you in right from the start and it never let's you go. I felt like John Shea was in the room talking to me. He opens his life wide open for all to see. After you read it the one thing that strikes you is how incredibly honest it is. It reminds me of a modern day Angela's Ashes. At points its funny, its sad, but in the end a man found who he was looking for all along nd that man was staring back at him in the mirror.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just got finished reading the book. It took me one night to finish, because I couldn't put it down. This is a fascinating story not only about a gangster's life, but about living up to a certain code. Many of these so-called gangster books are written by rats. These are people who talk tough and act tough, but when the cell door closes, they turn into cowards. John Shea talked the talk and then walked the walk. Faced with doing 12 years hard time, he never wavered. You may not like that he was a gangster, but you have to respect that he took responsiblity for his actions instead of hiding behind others.