I'm giving this a higher star rating than it probably deserves. It's scattered, as if Friedman is trying to cram as much as possible into the book about all the different crime figures he knows. You can feel Friedman racing. He was: he had contracted a rare disease while on assignment for Vanity Fair in the slums of Bombay and was dying as he wrote this. Friedman died in 2002. Given his ballsy way of handling himself when confronting Russian mobsters, I'm not wholly convinced they didn't get him in the end.
It's been approximately ten years since this book was published. How much more firmly entrenched is the Russian mob in our culture? I would guess much more so. Ten years is a long time to operate in the shadows, especially when there's very little reporting going on regarding their activities. (And why would anyone want to take them on? One reporter had acid thrown in her face for doing so.) Their influence is probably double what it was ten years ago, when they were, on the whole, making billions of dollars off of huge scams. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Wall Street and the like didn't take lessons from them before bringing down our economy in a crash two years ago.
The FBI was woefully slow in catching on to their presence, and their usual turf war mentality kept them from working with local and international authorities in compressing Russian mob activities, thus allowing this ruthless mob—one so violent it makes the Italian mafia look timid by comparison—to flourish. Local authorities in Brighton Beach, New York, could never get a foothold. Prosecuting members of the Russian mob is very difficult: they don't hesitate to go after cops, their families, prosecutors, and judges. Some convictions have taken place, but the mobsters often end up dictating mob activities from within the confines of their cells.
For all its flaws, the book is an engaging and terrifying—if slightly confusing—read. Friedman only gives us some broad brush strokes of how the Red Mafiya operates, giving us anecdotes of just how ruthless the Russian mob can be. Each chapter focuses on a major player of the mob. Some are linked to each other, some seem to stand alone. At any rate, the book is a good primer for getting an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. If you're a mystery or a thriller writer, I'd definitely recommend this. Four stars.