The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is a comic novel about unfunny topics, such as murder, written by an angry man.

Dust jacket of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot StraightAuthor Jimmy Breslin, a brash New York Daily News columnist, invents a gang war between a Mafia don “Papa Baccala” and malcontents who want to get a bigger share of the proceeds: 100 percent is the figure they have in mind.

Instead of liquidating his opposition, Baccala decides to keep them quiet by letting them organize a six-day bike race and keep most of the money.

The opposition, led by Kid Sally Palumbo (Palumbo rhymes with Dumbo, get it?) are total incompetents.

Breslin makes fun of the incompetent crooks he invented, but beneath the sometimes ribald humor is a deep anger against competent political crooks and the intertwined police and justice systems that work against the innocent.

The film rights to Gang were sold before the book came out, which probably accounts for the novel’s sales: The novel is mostly a series of theatrical sight gags, funnier seen than read about.

The novel’s lasting contribution is undoubtedly its title: Referring to an organization as “a gang that can’t shoot straight” has become shorthand for systemic incompetence.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin
Viking Press, ©1969. 249 p.
1970 bestseller #7. My grade: C-

Reviewer’s note: Breslin died March 19, 2017.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni