A steady, by-the-numbers recounting of a modern Mafia don’s career and his vicious rule over Sicily.
During the 1980s, the power of the Mafia in the United States declined by virtue of several factors, including a concerted federal program of anti-racketeering prosecutions and infighting among several crime families. In Italy, the Mafia’s hold was much stronger, in part because of government corruption, in part because Bernardo Provenzano, a semiliterate peasant foot soldier turned crime lord, kept a tight grip on the operation. Writes British true-crime author Longrigg (No Questions Asked: The Secret Life of Women in the Mob, 2004, etc.), with rather typical portent, “Men who would rather shoot than talk had to admire Provenzano’s skilled mediation, his quiet authority.” Perhaps so, but Provenzano also had no qualms about dispatching with those who did not admire him. Longrigg assembles a thorough account of Provenzano’s life, drawn largely from the testimony of a former associate who turned on him when the law finally caught up to the don. That process took more than 43 years, when officials finally got serious about cracking down after, among other things, an American boy visiting Sicily was killed in an attempted kidnapping. Longrigg’s efforts at sociology won’t be news to anyone who has pondered the ways of organized crime, though it is striking that the Mafia works much like a guerrilla army, relying “on the silent consent of the community, as an essential part of its social control.” To the end, even when he had few places left to run and was in need of medical help that local doctors could not provide (“Mafiosi are particularly vulnerable to health problems, and not just because they’re liable to get shot,” writes Longrigg unhelpfully), Provenzano had that silent support—thanks, of course, to a fat bankroll.
Pales by comparison to Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah (2007) as reportage on Italy’s war against organized crime, but Longrigg turns up plenty of useful material on some of that war’s recent—and most deserving—targets.