EXCELLENT CADAVERS by Alexander Stille


The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic
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 A deep and devastating account of the assassination of Italy's top two anti-Mafia prosecutors. When magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were murdered by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra in 1992, citizens of Palermo rioted, the stock market crashed, and top government officials (including Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and Socialist leader Bettino Craxi) stepped down in disgrace. Falcone and Borsellino, the leading members of Palermo's anti-Mafia pool of investigating prosecutors, had captivated the nation as architects of the so- called ``maxi-trial'' of 475 alleged mobsters in a stadium-size bunker built exclusively for the purpose. Palermo's maxi-trial revealed to the world the feudalistic hierarchy of the Cosa Nostra, the growth of the heroin trade worldwide, and most shockingly, the Italian government's outright collusion with Mafia families, especially with the ferocious Corleonese clan. Stille (Benevolence and Betrayal, 1992, not reviewed) brilliantly tells two parallel stories here. One is the story of Falcone's and Borsellino's unprecedented rapport with Mafia ``men of honor,'' from gunrunners to chieftains such as Tommaso Buscetta, who broke the code of omert† (silence) to talk directly to the incorruptible and indefatigable prosecutors. The other story is the account of how members of the Italian government at every level sought to undermine the prosecutors' work: dismantling the anti-Mafia pool, sabotaging their careers, sending anonymous threatening letters, and even planting a bomb at Falcone's beach house. (The author considers the widely reported rumor that Andreotti's Christian Democratic government may have had a hand in the Mafia's murder of Falcone and Borsellino, but he decides that ``no concrete evidence'' substantiates it.) Stille is especially adept at what he calls the ``semiotics'' of Cosa Nostra life, subjecting the merest gestures and signs to rigorous interpretation. A remarkable work, at once a rich analysis of Italian culture and politics, a real-life conspiracy-theory thriller, and a psychological portrait of two bona fide heroes.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-42579-9
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995


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