This book is well-timed and well-written. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in crime and in Italy. It is not, however, an historical book. The author seems to assume that we know as much as she does about the early history of the Mafia, so she says little about it. The Mafia's origins go back at least two centuries; perhaps even to the medieval period, according to some authors; unfortunately most of us know nothing about them. It follows that a short historical annex or introduction for the general reader would have been helpful. So would an index, although there is a helpful "dramatis personae" section at the end of the book.
Having got that off my chest: this is a piece of painstaking and thoughtful journalism by a distinguished journalist. It deals strictly with contemporary Mafia activity in Italy and wider Europe: specifically Cosa Nostra, La Camorra and 'Ndrangheta. Reski is a German journalist who lives in Venice and is familiar with Italy and the mafia, on which she has written many investigative pieces.
In 2008 a number of Italians were gunned down in a massacre in an Italian restaurant in Duisburg, Germany. It was a Mafia revenge raid. This was the moment when Germany and the world woke up to the fact that the Mafia were active well beyond Italy and the USA. Not only was that restaurant mafia-run; so were chains of other restaurants, hotels and other concerns. As I write, the Australian Government is becoming increasingly concerned at the criminal activity of 'Ndrangheta in Sydney and other Australian cities which have large Italian expatriate communities. The most infamous dynasties now have representatives in Australia: often apparently respectable people like solicitors and doctors, and the crime level is rocketing. I have had personal experience of this in Sydney. In short, the Mafia are everywhere and are flourishing.
Reski provides a number of new insights. One is on the role of women in the mafia; usually thought of as a male chauvinist organisation. However it is supportive mafia wives and mothers who keep the organisation together; especially when their male relations are in prison. They groom their children to take over when the present generation retires. They are ideal confidantes because in Italian Law a woman cannot be forced to testify at her husband's trial, although she may choose to make a public and emotional plea of his innocence, which sometimes works. We learn a lot from Reski's book about these formidable, and often charming, ladies: even their favourite boutiques: Armani, Prada etc; their lavish weddings; and their codes of honour and loyalty. Their role is likely to increase in importance: for example, we meet Rosalba, a successful defence lawyer who has represented numerous Mafia defendants over the years.
A State can be undermined and overthrown as easily, if not more easily, by corruption and organised crime as it can be by the hostile intelligence services of another State. This is effectively what has happened in Italy, whose Government is incorrigibly corrupt and most of whose politicians have links to the Mafia. Unfortunately Italy is also a founding member of the EU; the Mafia have extended their tentacles into other EU Member States, including Germany, and are now adept at extracting EU funding for their various projects, under ingenious pretexts. They provide an inlet for illicit drugs; people trafficking; gun-running; and other undesirable things. Thanks to the Mafia, much waste, including possibly nuclear waste, has been imported and illegally buried around Naples. It is now polluting Naples' water supply. The most picturesque aristocratic quarter in Palermo was razed overnight to make way for concrete flats built with Mafia money. The historic centres of Sicilian towns were marked for destruction and only saved when the Mafia decided to go into tourism. At that point, millions of Euros suddenly and mysteriously became available for the restoration of historic buildings. Italy's weakness and corruption represent a threat to the rest of Europe. The Church is as much in hock to the Mafia as the State.
The sad thing is that it does not have to be like this. Mussolini, for all his faults, managed to suppress the Mafia with the aid of his "iron prefect" Mori. The Mafia bosses fled to the USA. It was America that encouraged the Mafia to return to Italy during the Second World War, to assist the resistance to Mussolini, and which allowed collaboration between US and Italian mafiosi to develop. It was likewise America that insisted that the Italian monarchy had to go; to make way for the hopelessly corrupt and ramshackle Republic, in which the Mafia flourish so exuberantly.
Finally, Petra Reski performs a valuable service in de-mystifying and de-romanticising the Mafia. Hollywood films like "The Godfather" have given the Mafia a glamorous image; even presenting it in a chivalrous light. The reality is sordid and exploitative in the extreme. "Honour" does not even feature. The comparison that springs to mind is with SPECTRE in the James Bond novels: SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion: with the emphasis on Revenge and Extortion.
Score: 4/5 http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Honoured-Society-History-Powerful/dp/1848871341/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341478970&sr=1-1