For almost five decades now, legendary newspaperman Jimmy Breslin has dispensed wisdom, wit and justice with his hard-hitting columns. But Breslin has also published a dozen books now, and his novels have inspired a generation of Irish American writers.

His 1973 novel "World Without End, Amen" chronicled the civil rights movements in both America and Northern Ireland, while his 1986 classic "Table Money" is a harsh, brilliant look at life among Queens Irish union men.

This time around, in his often hilarious new novel "I Don't Want to Go to Jail," Breslin looks at modern-day gangsters in Little Italy and Greenwhich Village. "I Don't Want to Go to Jail" is an offbeat riot, a serio-comic look at violent, poignant gangsters such as Fausti "The Fist" and Baldy Dom - not to mention John Gotti.

Breslin takes his readers not just into the alleyways along Bleecker and Sullivan Streets, but out to Queens and the Rockaways, blending fact and fiction, past and present.

As always, Breslin's inspiration begins with the streets. He writes: "The Village daylight is an artist's assistant. Perhaps it is the metallic content of the old buildings that causes a reflection seen nowhere else in the city. Unlike so many other parts of New York, the Village sky has not yet been stolen."

From the landscape, Breslin then moves to the people. "The Village...was worthy of its beginnings by the way bohemians were able to live and grow famous amidst Irish and Italians, the breeds most suspicious of outsiders, and capable at any odd moment of exploding into uncommon violence."

Breslin's first book since "I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me" (which chronicled his brain surgery operation) shows that the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist still knows how to do fiction as well.

(Little, Brown / $24.95 / 306 pages)

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