The best novels that capture the darkly insane world of NYC where cocaine and vicious gangsters defined the 1980s

Who am I?

Richard Vetere’s screenplay Caravaggio won The Golden Palm for the Best Screenplay at the 2021 Beverly Hills Film Festival. He co-wrote The Third Miracle screenplay adaptation of his own novel. The movie was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Ed Harris and Anne Heche and directed by Agnieszka Holland released by Sony Pictures Classics. His teleplay adaptation of his stage play The Marriage Fool starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett is the most viewed CBS movie ever and is currently running on Amazon. He also wrote the cult classic film Vigilante called by BAM as one of the “best indies of the 1980s.”


I wrote...

Champagne and Cocaine: A Novel

By Richard Vetere,

Book cover of Champagne and Cocaine: A Novel

What is my book about?

New York. Winter. 1980. Behind the glitter of the disco era, the city streets run wild. In countless secret spaces, high stakes poker games fuel an underground economy flush with cocaine, champagne, and call girls. Winners are on top of the world. But no one wins forever, and when aspiring novelist and inveterate card player Danny Ferraro goes "all in"—and then some—he winds up owing the mob big money. And when you owe the mob, you pay—or else. With nowhere to run, Danny is forced to commit unspeakable acts just to stay even. Richard Vetere's gritty novel strips the gloss of the "Godfather" era and lays bare the gritty reality of the subversive blackmarket as Ferraro struggles to free himself of its grip. 

The books I picked & why

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Bright Lights, Big City

By Jay McInerney,

Book cover of Bright Lights, Big City

Why this book?

Bright Lights, Big City published in 1984 written by Jay McInerney captures 80s NYC from an outsider who experiences it head-on. I was drawn to the novel because I lived the same world and went to the club Heartbreaks but as an insider. McInerney’s lead character is a copy editor for a reputable publishing house and he is madly in love with his wife who is now a hot model and no longer has any interest in him. On top of that his mother just died of cancer and his younger brother comes to NYC hoping he will be strong for him. But he has no strength at all turning to cocaine for solace. Good read that captures a time and place as I tried to do in my own novel. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation with Michael J. Fox is a disappointment.

Bright Lights, Big City

By Jay McInerney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bright Lights, Big City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is six am, the party is over and reality is threatening to intervene in the power-fuelled existence of a young man who should have everything but who might just end up with nothing at all. His wife has left him, his job is in jeopardy, and his social life is about to end.


Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia - A True Story by FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone

By Joseph D. Pistone,

Book cover of Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia - A True Story by FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone

Why this book?

Published in 1988, Detective Joe Pistone is ordered to go underground to pose as a criminal and infiltrate a mob family. With his new name, Donnie Brasco, and made-up background as a jewel thief, his behavior and style are so authentic to the small-time street thugs, he is accepted almost immediately. His life is always in jeopardy and his family suffers since he is away all the time, but he is so good at playing the bad guy, Pistone begins to feel sympathy for the mobsters he is looking to arrest. The book reveals how petty and incompetent mobsters are. I met Pistone years later and he still felt concerned about his life.

Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia - A True Story by FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone

By Joseph D. Pistone,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Donnie Brasco as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1978, the US government waged a war against organised crime. One man was left behind the lines. From 1976 until 1981, Special Agent Pistone lived undercover with the Mafia. Only able to visit his young family once every few months, Pistone - under the alias Donnie Brasco - ate, drank, partied, worked and sometimes killed with the wiseguys. He got so close that his Mafia partner, Lefty Ruggiero, asked him to officiate as best man at his wedding. Pistone's eventual testimony, in such spectacular prosecutions as 'the Pizza Connection' and 'the Mafia Commission' resulted in more than 200 indictments…


Prizzis Honor

By Richard Condon,

Book cover of Prizzis Honor

Why this book?

Richard Condon shows the mob as a family of degenerates, violent felons who are still human beings who also fall in love. The focus on the novel is how a hit man, looking to embellish his career, dates a big mob guy’s daughter, only to fall in love with another killer who is a woman. She has been hired to kill him but she also is in love with him. Published in 1982 , the novel captures the entanglements of a soap opera with real bite. The movie with Jack Nicholson is also top rate.

Prizzis Honor

By Richard Condon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Prizzis Honor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A darkly funny novel of mobsters, murder, and marriage: “The surprise ending will knock your reading glasses off.” —The New York Times
 
Charley Partanna works as a hitman for the Prizzis, New York’s most dangerous crime family. When he meets Irene Walker, an LA-based tax consultant, it’s pretty much love at first sight.
 
But Irene also moonlights as a hit woman—and had a hand in a big-money heist in Vegas. Now Charley has been told that she’s got to go. Faced with divided loyalties, he must make a choice—between the only family he’s ever known and the woman he loves.…


The Godfather

By Mario Puzo,

Book cover of The Godfather

Why this book?

I read The Godfather with a bunch of working class co-workers as we unloaded trucks at UPS. Published in 1971, the novel is a page turner, the bible for all gangster novels, and a theme that still works—immigrants come to America to make the dream happen. Though it was not looked on as literature at first, the characters who inhabit the novel are more potent than perhaps any other American novel. The movies and the following sequels are perfection. Highly recommended.  

The Godfather

By Mario Puzo,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Godfather as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_________________________________
The classic novel that inspired 'the greatest crime film of all time'

Tyrant, blackmailer, racketeer, murderer - his influence reaches every level of American society. Meet Don Corleone, a friendly man, a just man, a reasonable man. The deadliest lord of the Cosa Nostra. The Godfather.

But no man can stay on top forever, not when he has enemies on both sides of the law. As the ageing Vito Corleone nears the end of a long life of crime, his sons must step up to manage the family business. Sonny Corleone is an old hand, while World War II…


Requiem for a Dream

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Book cover of Requiem for a Dream

Why this book?

I highly recommend Requiem for a Dream, published in 1978, which pre-dates the timeline of my own book by a couple of years. Requiem shows the complete degradation of drug addiction to two different generations of people who live in New York City during the drug craze of heroin and other prescription drugs. The characters in Requiem don’t seem to care or even be aware of how devastating being addicted to their drugs really is. They live for the high the drugs bring to them and each suffers tremendously for the total annihilation. A tough book to read but worth it! PS: Also a terrific movie as well.

Requiem for a Dream

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Requiem for a Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Harry Goldfarb, heroin addict and son of lonely widow Sara, cares only about enjoying the good life with girlfriend Marion and best friend Tyrone C Love, and making the most of all the hash, poppers and dope they can get. Sara Goldfarb sits at home with the TV, dreaming of the life she could have and struggling with her own addictions - food and diet pills. But these four will pay a terrible price for the pleasures they believe they are entitled to. A passionate, heart-breaking tale of the crushing weight of hope and expectation, Requiem for a Dream is…


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