The Westies - original cover

25 Years and Counting...

The year 2015 marks the 25-year anniversary of the THE WESTIES, the first book written and published by author T.J. English. At the time, there had never been a major book published on the subject of the Irish Mob in America. The Westies became a national best seller, and the book has gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Since its initial publication in 1990, The Westies has never been out of print.

At the time that T.J. English first began researching the story of a notoriously violent gang of hoodlums in the New York City neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, he was a 30 year-old freelance journalist driving a taxi in the evenings to pay the bills. In some ways, he was not yet at a level in the business of writing where you would think he had the juice to get a book published. Except that there was no one else at that time with the perfect combination of talent, drive and insight to tell the story of the Westies. He was the perfect person at the right time, and the rest is history.

The book tells the story of the gang primarily from the point of view of Mickey Featherstone, who was the number two man in the gang behind boss Jimmy Coonan. The author spent many hours interviewing Featherstone, first while he was being held in federal prison and later when he was relocated into the Witness Protection Program. The author's ability to forge an intimate relationship with his source would establish what has become a staple of English's subsequent best selling books: his ability to tell underworld tales from the point of view of those who actually lived those stories.

The Westies were known primarily for the level of savage violence that characterized their criminal activities in the 1970s and 1980s. Specifically, they developed a macabre reputation for making their murder victims bodies "do the Houdini." After they killed someone, they cut the bodies into pieces, bagged the body parts and dumped them into the East River. Eventually, the gang's criminal activities came to the attention of the Mafia. Led by Coonan, the gang sought to establish a working partnership with the Gambino Crime Family, who were led at the time by Paul Castellano. This partnership, hotly debated within the gang, would eventually sow the seeds of the gang's destruction.

In late 1987 and on into 1988, the Westies were the subject of a major RICO, or racketeering trial in the Southern District of New York. The primary witness against the gang was Featherstone, who felt that members of the gang, including Coonan, had deliberately framed him for a West Side murder he did not commit. Featherstone had been convicted of that murder and sentenced to life in prison. Instead of accepting that diabolical injustice, he struck back and became a cooperating witness against the gang.

The trial was attended by T.J. English. The courtroom stories of the gang’s roots and crimes, spanning more than twenty years, captured the imagination of the young journalist and cab driver, himself an Irish American from a working-class background. What made it possible for this neophyte, would-be author to sell the story to a major publisher was that English saw this yarn in the larger context of the Irish American experience. The book became about something more than the story of this particular criminal group from this particular neighborhood. It became the story of a certain type of hard-nosed, tough guy Irish American culture that had existed in many U.S. cities for nearly a century.

There is a reason The Westies is now considered a classic. The intimacy of the storytelling at times makes it feel as if this is not even a book about organized crime, but rather the story of a group of friends and associates from a tough neighborhood with a long tradition of criminal activity. In the hands of English, the story of the Westies is humanized and brought down to earth, made to feel relatable and emotionally intimate. All these years later, the book is still shocking for the levels of violence and betrayal that are exposed in such vivid detail.

Read The Westies and you will be brought into the lives of the story's main characters, but you will also be made to feel as though you are experiencing a living history of the city. Not the "official" history of politics, wars and big public events: a people's history of ethnic tribalism, survival, and the pursuit of the American Dream from the POV of the mean streets of a festering American metropolis.

About The Author sectionhead

Thomas Joseph "T.J." English comes from a large Irish Catholic family of ten brothers and sisters.  Early in his writing career, English worked as a freelance journalist in New York City during the day and drove a taxi at night.  He often refers to cab driving as a metaphor for what he does as a writer – cruising the streets, interviewing strangers, exploring the unknown, reporting on what he sees and hears from his sojourns in and around the underworld.

T.J. English with actor Bob Odenkirk.

The author with actor Bob Odenkirk,
formerly of Breaking Bad and
current star of Better Call Saul.

T.J. English with Pete Hamill and Ruben Blades.

T.J. with legendary journalist Pete Hamill
and salsa singer Ruben Blades.

T.J. English with George Carlin

Backstage with George Carlin.

T.J. English with William Kennedy

With Pulitzer Prize-winning author
William Kennedy.

In 1990, English published his first book, The Westies, an account of the last of the Irish Mob in the infamous Manhattan neighborhood known as "Hell’s Kitchen." The book was the result of a series of reports English wrote for a weekly Irish American newspaper based in New York...

His second book, Born to Kill (1995), was an unprecedented inside account of a violent Vietnamese gang based in New York’s Chinatown, that operated up and down the East Coast.  In 2005, English published Paddy Whacked, a sweeping history of the Irish American gangster in New York, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, and other U.S. cities.  In 2008, English hit bestseller lists with Havana Nocturne, his account of U.S. mobster infiltration of Havana, Cuba in the years before the Revolution swept Fidel Castro into power. The book became something of a publishing phenomenon, rising to #7 on the New York Times bestseller list and also making the following lists: Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Independent Booksellers. Havana Nocturne is currently in development as a major motion picture.

In 2011, English published The Savage City, a blistering account of racial hostilities between the NYPD and the Black Liberation movement in the 1960s and early 1970s. This book also became a New York Times bestseller. Most recently, English published Where the Bodies Were Buried (2015), an in-depth account the Whitey Bulger scandal, with particular emphasis on the universe of corruption in the criminal justice system that helped to make possible the notorious Boston mobster's twenty-year criminal reign.

As a journalist, English has written for many publications including: Esquire, Playboy, New York magazine, The Village Voice, Los Angeles Times Magazine, and the New York Times. In the mid-1990s, he wrote a three-part series for Playboy entitled "The New Mob" that explored the changing face of organized crime in America. More recently, he wrote "Narco Americano," also for Playboy (February 2011), an investigation into the narco war in Mexico and how the violence has effected the Juárez-El Paso borderland. In 2010, his article for Playboy about a DEA agent alleged to have framed innocent people on bogus narcotics charges won the prestigious New York Press Club Award for Best Crime Reporting. These and other articles were published in the book Whitey's Payback (2013), a collection of the author's crime journalism over a twenty-year period.

His work as a writer has taken him to Cuba, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ireland, and all around the U.S... Most of his articles are on the subject of crime and criminal justice, though English writes on a wide variety of subjects including music, politics, and movies.  He has published full-length interviews with actor Bill Murray, former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, director Martin Scorsese, and comedy legend George Carlin, to name a few.

In addition, English is a screenwriter and has penned episodes for the television crime dramas "NYPD Blue" and "Homicide," for which he was awarded the prestigious Humanitas Prize.


He lives in New York City.