There is no such thing in Sicily as a secret organization called the Mafia"" which can be unearthed and smashed. With this blunt opener, Servadio, an Italian journalist-novelist living in Britain, begins the most thoroughgoing study of mafiosi mentality, clientage and patronage systems, governmental and economic parasitism yet to appear. Along with brigands and absentee landlords, the cosehe--semifeudal groupings of ""men of respect,"" their kin, friends, and hirelings--have been endemic in Sicily since Norman times. Throughout their long and violent history--and never more flagrantly than in the 1950s and '60s--the mafiosi cosche have thrived on a symbiotic relationship with the ""official"" government. Their links with the Christian Democrats in postwar Italy have been close, often familial; they continue to be the ""brokers of power."" As Sicilians have migrated north, penetrating the judicial and administrative machinery of the state, the country as a whole has become ""Sicilianized""; the code of omerta (silence) has penetrated and riddled the entire structure of society. Economically, cosche protection rackets, and their infiltration of small credit banks and industries, have bled away any prosperity that might have accrued to workers and peasantry. Servadio, who spent years researching this book, owes much to historian Eric Hobsbawm whose sense of the mafiosi as a retrograde middle class informs her own quasi-Marxist view of the social structure which supports the cosche. Change impends, however. Servadio sees the current epidemic of kidnappings and assassinations as symptoms of a ""crisis"" of the old order; recent evidence suggests mafiosi collusion with the Neo-fascists--apparently in a turn to semi-cladestine movements as ""official"" authority fails them. A deglamorizing, dynamic study of the resistance and adaptability of Sicily's sinister subculture.