Malavita by Tonino Benacquista

malavitaYou may have noticed that I’ve gone a little light with my reading lately. Well, Malavita by Tonino Benacquista fits right into that category. The only thing that might raise it into highbrow status is the fact that it is a translation from French. Malavita is a comedic novel that looks at an ex-Mafia family now living in France under a witness protection program. It would appear that you can take a man out of the Mafia but you can’t take the Mafia out of the man.

One night, under the cover of darkness, Fred Blake aka Giovanni Manzoni and his family move into a house in rural France. This is, hopefully, the last of a series of moves made by the FBI/CIA to keep Blake and his family safe from the long, strong arm of the Mafia. In spite of the Blake family’s efforts at normalization, it seems that where ever they go their ingrained Mafia tendencies get them in trouble. Extortion, manipulation and coercive violence are hard habits to break.  In spite of the small incendiary Blake’s wife sets off at the grocery store, she appears to be the only family member invested in living a normal life.

Malavita presents itself as Mafia-lite.  And before you ask, yes it has been made into a movie, The Family, set to come out September 13, 2013. I’ve looked at the trailer and it appears that the movie will not be as good as the book, but that is usually the case. Starring Robert DeNiro, it reminded me a bit of Analyse This but with a healthy dose of violence when the Mafia comes to France to hunt down Blake.

Malavita falls into many of the stereotypes surrounding the Mafia, but in a good way. We all like to laugh at made men. One scene in which Blake is called on to comment on the movie Goodfellas does nothing to explode readers’ preconceived notions about Mafia life, but it is exactly what readers, as well as Blake’s audience, want to hear. Yes, the gun battles and explosions near the end tend towards the extreme, but I guess that is why it is fiction.

My only complaint about the novel is that there is a rather lengthy digression in the middle of the book. Although it progresses the plot, it is also so long winded and convoluted that I found it tiresome. That part is sure to be left out of the movie.

Who would like this book? Malavita is not going to win any prizes for writing, but it is an enjoyable romp. It is kind of like watching a movie or TV. In spite of the fact that DeNiro is starring in the movie alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Diana Argon I am not expecting great things at the box office. Instead I would recommend reading the book even if you are not a big reader. It is fun and humorous. I suspect that for those more versed in Mafia lore than I am there are many inside jokes. It might also be good on a trip to the French countryside.