Gansters' paradise

ONE thing New Yorkers love to do is complain; more specifically, they love to lament the passing of the old pre-Giuliani, pre-zero tolerance days, when the city was a grimy hotbed of murder, mayhem and debaucheryf And, with crime rates at a 30-year low, you can't set foot on a subway these days without somebody telling you to have a nice day . . . frankly, it's embarrassing. We want the good old bad old days back!

For starters, they simply don't make mobsters like they used to; the family of legendary racketeer and dearly departed 'Dapper Don' John Gotti even have their own reality TV show, for crying out loud. Word on the street, however, says that matters may liven up with a series of impending prison releases casting a tidal-wave of old school goodfellas back on the streets, all keen to reclaim the reigns to the city's five major crime families.

We're talking mob legends like (and no, we're not making the names up) Venero 'Bennie Eggs' Mangano, Joe 'Joe The German Watts', Stevie 'Stevie Wonder' Crea, Salvatore 'Sammy Meatballs' Aparo and John Gotti's beloved nephew Richie, all due for release before January 2007. This potentially explosive situation has got the FBI seriously hot and bothered, as it braces itself for a potentially messy return to the Mafia-centric New York of the '70s and '80s, when the likes of the Genovese and Columbo families unofficially ran the city.

And, with billionaire Mike Bloomberg (like he says, he's so rich, he can't be bought) already a shoo-in for a second term as mayor, measures are already afoot to ensure that the mob won't regain their stranglehold on New York's unions and construction industries. Apparently the big money is in internet gambling, anyhow.

In the meantime, television audiences are crying out for the return of America's favourite gangster, Jersey Don Tony Soprano; the good news is that, after an extended hiatus, the last series of The Sopranos is finally lensing in a variety of suitably unglamorous New Jersey locations. Even better is the news that it isn't the last season . . . cable behemoth HBO managed to squeeze an extra mini-season, six additional episodes in total, from Sopranos svengali David Chase, to be shot back-to-back with the current run (meaning no pricey contract renegotiations, as it's technically the same season) and screened later.

Talk about more batta-bing for yer buckf

Shine on

AND who exactly is the unlikely Comeback King of the season? None other than housewives' favourite Neil Diamond, who's forthcoming, self-titled album (due in November) is already being hailed as his finest record in 30 years, and one of the year's very best. And what happened, exactly, to reignite the Diamond muse?

Mr Forever In Blue Jeans has hooked up with hipperthan-hip producer Rick Rubin, the man behind everything from legendary hip-hop label Def Jam to the last few Red Hot Chilli Peppers records, and the sonic genius behind Johnny Cash's creative rebirth. We hear he's taken Diamond back to his roots, delivering a set of stark, confessional heartbreakers a la early Neil fave 'Solitary Man'. We're excited. Strange But True:

Neil Diamond is actually his real name. Talk about being born for showbizf

A Wolfe among men

SEVENTYSOMETHING literary dandy and perennial southern gentleman Tom Wolfe took to the stage of Manhattan's Cooper Union the other evening to celebrate the paperback launch of his controversial bestseller I Am Charlotte Simmons, and proceeded to entertain the assembled literati with the vigour of a man half his age.

Despite his penchant of late for dropping literary doorstoppers roughly once every decade (Bonfire Of The Vanities in the '80s, A Man In Full in the '90s) Wolfe's journalistic instincts haven't betrayed him; when not offering an skilful analysis of contemporary American mores . . . and wiping the floor with young literary pretender Toure, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and author of the acclaimed Soul City . . . the man offered a few tantalising glimpses of his next novel, a look at America's new wave of emergent emigres. When we grow up, we want to be Tom Wolfe. Great shoes.

And finally . . .

THISweek, we're very excited aboutf hot Oscar prospect Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose fine performance as 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' author Truman Capote in masterful biopic Capote should score him the Best Actor gong next Februaryf The New Yorker Literary Festival, the most shamelessly celeb-packed literary bash in the world (not that we could get any tickets, mind you)f The fact that Stephen King was sitting in the next row when we went to the movies the other morning. Why?

Because, back in the day, The Shining scared the absolute shite out of us, that's why.

New York rules.