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The Viper by Mick McCaffrey

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller

By Mick Halpin - Critical Mick

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Mick McCaffrey- who stepped in to fill Paul Williams’ shoes at the Sunday World- is not afraid to expose the details of Ireland’s seedy underworld. In 2011, Dublin gangsters put out a €20,000 contract on his life. ‘Nuff said.

McCaffrey’s latest true crime title, The Viper: The Life + crimes of Martin Foley, reveals the full story of “the elder statesman of Irish organized crime.” Born to a Crumlin family in 1951, he has hammered out a long criminal career as part of Martin Cahill’s organization and on his own. Foley became known in the tabloid press as “the Viper” due to his fang-like bandito moustache and his deadly nature. In a criminal landscape where lives have proven short, Foley has survived for decades despite intensive Gardai operations, assassination attempts that left eighteen bullet wounds, a changing underworld landscape and an attempt to go straight.

McCaffrey traces Foley from his origins as an apprentice tyre fitter and early court appearances for drunk and disorderly conduct. Foley quickly decided to use his impressive physique and reputation as a hard man to fall in with local criminal elements. The Viper recounts many of the well-organized strokes pulled by The General’s Gang in the 1970’s, and the devious ways that court cases and investigations were sabotaged. The chapters are informative, fast-paced and concise- just like good true crime outta be.

The Viper details the many enemies that Foley made over his career. One of the most dangerous was the IRA. In an episode left completely out of Ed Moloney’s Secret History of the IRA, McCaffrey details how Martin Foley survived a kidnap attempt by an Active Service Unit in 1984, and the chase around Dublin and gun battle with Gardai that followed. The IRA may have eventually caught up with Martin Cahill, but Foley survived kidnappings, shootings, petrol bombs to the face, and the dangers of prison life during his brief periods inside.

McCaffrey’s expose also captures a portrait of the Viper’s contradictory personality. On one hand, Foley openly acted as a spokesman for the Concerned Criminal Action Committee- a “motley crew of gougers, thieves and general troublemakers” formed to intimidate the Concerned Parents Against Drugs into submission. In 1988 he assaulted one young detective garda so severely that the man never recovered, dying due to the complications of an underlying condition in 1993. Yet McCaffrey also portrays Foley’s devotion to his wife and daughters, his occasional acts of generosity and his refusal to deal in heroin due to the destruction it causes. Foley gradually mellowed from a leading member of a community where it was forbidden to speak to Gardai into a character who was not opposed to sitting down for a cup of tea with one. Attempts to silence those who oppose him have mellowed from physical violence to threatened legal action.

Touching on the IRA, INLA, John Gilligan, Veronica Guerin, the robberies of the Beit art collection, the Crumlin/Drimnagh feud, the Criminal Assets Bureau, and Ireland’s drug connections on Spain’s Costa Del Crime, The Viper provides a 309 page overview of most facets of the Irish gangland scene over the past forty years. Now in his sixties, Foley has taken advantage of the Irish economic downturn by establishing a booming debt collections agency. His fearsome reputation alone has made many clients pay up as soon as he came knocking. McCaffrey shares tax findings and several interviews with former customers and certain tax findings, raising questions about how legitimate and law-abiding this new venture is.
The detail in The Viper is impressive for a book completed without the cooperation of its subject. The book concludes with details of the legal manoeuvres by which Martin Foley, notorious for his hatred of the press which has sold millions of copies off his deeds, attempted to secure a court injunction to block the publication of The Viper.

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