'Where's Whitey?': Author's book now has answer

Kris Olson and Nicole Levy

The world woke up Thursday, June 23 to the answer to the question posed by the title of the latest collaboration between author Phyllis Karas and former Winter Hill gang member Kevin Weeks: “Where’s Whitey?”

But after James "Whitey" Bulger, 81, and his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, 60, spent 16 years on the run, don’t expect their capture Wednesday night in Santa Monica, Calif., to stifle interest in the work of fiction.

Karas said in an email Thursday morning that she had been “besieged by media” since word of Bulger’s capture broke. She noted with amazement in an email that the book, which she and Weeks had just begun to promote, opens with a scene in California.

At a “Where’s Whitey?” reading that in Marblehead, Mass., on Monday, the lights went off unexpectedly. The audience froze in silence for a moment and then laughed, providing testimony to the fear and fascination that has surrounded James Bulger Jr. for decades.

With assistance from Weeks, a former longtime Bulger associate, journalist and New York Times best-selling author Karas provides a fictional account of Bulger’s life on the lam. She and Weeks launched the mystery thriller to a crowd of nearly 150 people on the same day the Boston FBI announced stepped-up efforts to find Greig, Bulger’s companion.

“Where’s Whitey?” follows the interrelation between Bulger, Greig, “Joey,” a character based on Weeks, and an FBI agent assigned to find Whitey.  The four crisscross the globe in a plot that obscures who is the hunted and who is the hunter. The story blends facts about Bulger’s activities in Massachusetts and his escape with scenes of how Weeks imagined Bulger would react to situations.

“I included what I perceived he would be doing based on what I observed of him,” Weeks said at Monday’s event.

For example, in the book, Bulger is shown helping out a Louisiana couple with money, something that he did for his South Boston neighbors. Weeks also recalled how Bulger would talk with strangers for over an hour just to get a piece of information, which is fictionally portrayed, as well. The book also includes scenes in Rio de Janeiro, Rome, the Virgin Islands and Amsterdam, all places Weeks said he suspects Bulger has gone.

Karas said the novel includes facts that Weeks might have known. But unlike a journalist, she never asked him, “Did this really happen?” and she did not probe Weeks’ sources of information. Rather, she would discuss the plot with him, and ask, “Does it sound realistic?”

“It is fiction, pure and utter fiction,” Karas said of the book.

But in a case that, until Wednesday night, had defied logic, the fictional version offers a fresh perspective. The novel causes readers to rethink the characters of the real-life drama. By testing the loyalty between different pairs of characters, Karas allows Greig, Joey and the FBI to form identities separate from Bulger’s.

True, Whitey remains the center of the story, but his partner, Greig, receives much more attention than she has up until the Boston FBI announced this week that it would be televising descriptions of Greig and her habits in 14 U.S. cities where Bulger had connections. It is now becoming apparent that Grieg may well have been the link that led to Bulger’s capture.

However, Karas shows Greig serving as a vital resource during their life on the run, buying food and cooking for Bulger and frequently comforting him after his nightmares.

“She can move around, and he can’t because he’s well known,” Weeks said. “He needs her more than she needs him.”

Yet, Karas gives Greig a voice rather than just a role in Whitey’s life. Karas said in a phone interview that in the book, she considers what Greig must be going through emotionally: her loyalty, desire, loneliness and sadness.

“What kind of woman would give up everything for the man she loves?” Karas asked.

Karas also calls into question the relationship between Weeks and Bulger through the character Joey. Joey agrees to assist the FBI with finding Bulger. Weeks said in real life he wouldn’t have agreed to go on a manhunt for Bulger like Joey did.

“I wouldn’t help the FBI cross the street. The book would have ended with that scene,” Weeks stated, adding that he often gets requests for information from FBI agents.

Weeks said about Bulger, “I have mixed feelings about him. He taught me a lot of things. We had good times; it was not all crime. In some ways I owe the guy, but I feel mad and betrayed.”

The public has also developed a long-term relationship with the Bulger legacy. Karas said her books on his associates draw a large following in England, where Bulger and Greig were sighted in 2002 –– “Where’s Whitey?” is distributed by Tonto Books, a British publisher.

Karas and Weeks previously collaborated on “Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob.” In “Brutal,” Weeks describes his role in removing remains of a number of those killed by Bulger because of their disloyalty. Weeks also participated in shakedowns of Boston-area drug dealers, loan sharks and bookmakers since 1974.

Weeks aided Bulger when he first escaped by providing him phony documents; Bulger did nothing to help Weeks, according to Weeks. Furthermore, after 25 years with Bulger, Weeks learned that his boss had been an informant for the Boston FBI since 1975. Arrested in 1999, Weeks got his sentence reduced to six years after giving over extensive information about his crimes to the Justice Department.

“Kevin (Weeks) lost his freedom, and Whitey is never giving it up,” Karas said in a phone interview earlier this week.

At least not willingly.

Reach Kris Olson at kolson@wickedlocal.com and Nicole Levy at saugus@wickedlocal.com.