Imagine being a side-kick to one of the more colorful characters of the New Orleans underworld and getting to see first hand all the crooked dealings and juicy tidbits of famous celebrities and Louisiana politicians. Well, that’s what it’s like to read Matthew Randazzo’s new book Mr. New Orleans: The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend.
Frenchy Brouillette and Torrid Tales of New Orleans Underworld – Book Review
This first person account of the alternate reality of the Crescent City unfolds like a quirky novel. Randazzo interviewed the colorful and well-liked gangster Frenchy Brouillete for several years even at times when Frenchy was on the lam from the law, which seemed to be most of the time.
The book is a real page turner that lays out the life of this Cajun boy from the little town of Marksville that produced not only Frenchy but Edwin Edwards, a distant cousin who became one of the most corrupt Louisiana governors in history.
In fact, as Frenchy tells it, Edwards did things so corrupt that Huey Long, another corrupt Louisiana governor, couldn’t have even imagined doing.
Not only is this an intimate and fascinating account of a legendary New Orleans mobster, it’s got to be one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while and found myself laughing out loud several times.
To read about the corruption that was rife in the French Quarter and the main characters involved all the way from the famous madame Norma Wallace, one of Frenchy’s best friends and mentors, to his friendship with possibly the most notorious Mafia figure in American history, yes, our own Carlos Marcello, to incredibly corrupt politicians, one being a famous New Orleans district attorney, and a well-known TV personality and newsman whose public persona was quite the opposite of his private one, is to get an inside glimpse, sometimes uncomfortable, of how the “other half” lives. Some of his revelations about local well-known characters are in fact shocking.
Frenchy was even friends with the world-famous, flamboyant pianist Liberace who would call him up whenever he came into town because he enjoyed his company and depended upon the gangster to show him a good time. Also, a good bit of the book is dedicated to the characters apparently involved in the Kennedy assassination and the Mafia’s and the CIA’s role in it. Frenchy knew these people, some of them very well.
Unfortunately for us, Frenchy was murdered in 2015 apparently by his roommate after they supposedly got into an argument. Knowing this as you read the book and characters he exposes involved in the New Orleans underworld, you wonder if someone didn’t have it out for him. He even mentions that he wouldn’t be telling his story if any of the people he talks about were still alive. You can read more about this from The Times Picayune.
The book is worth reading as not only a historical piece but as one that delves into the psychology of someone who is unapologetic of his chronically criminal past. As he puts it, his childhood in Marksville was boring and just could not see himself in his father’s business doing hard manual labor for the rest of his life in the produce business.
From a devout Catholic family he early on showed signs of just wanting to have adventures of all sorts, seeming to be addicted to excitement. When as a teenager he ran away to New Orleans he immediately gravitated to the underworld characters and their exciting life. He felt he was in heaven. This was the life for him.
For upstanding citizens who always want to try to do the right thing and follow the law, Mr. New Orleans is an interesting glimpse into a different and sometimes bizarre way of looking at life. It’s definitely eye-opening and has me look at our criminal and political class in a different light, as almost two sides of the same coin.
Get this book, read it. How the author Randazoo pulled this off is probably another story in itself. But the writing is first rate and he seems to really capture Frenchy’s personality in how he narrates his own life.
And strangely, you can’t help but like Frenchy. I lent this book to my brother and hope to get it back, because it’s one of those books that I want to read again. It really sticks with you and gives you a take on late 20th century New Orleans history from a completely different angle.