BOOK REVIEW / The alternative society that rules by the goat: Men of Honour: The Truth about the Mafia - Giovanni Falcone: Fourth Estate pounds 13.99

Share
Related Topics
GIOVANNI FALCONE would have been proud. His methods of painstaking sleuthing were posthumously vindicated the weekend before last, with the arrest of the Mafia boss Giuseppe Madonia.

The Italian press has described Madonia as the number two in commission of ruling families at the head of Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia. He would have therefore shared in the decision taken by the commission to order two recent killings - first of Falcone himself on 23 May, and then of his friend and close associate, Paolo Borsellino, on 19 July.

Judge Falcone was an investigating magistrate who trusted less in telephone intercepts - the Mafia were too clever to be caught out - than on human resources. He was able to persuade mafiosi to turn state witness, although he fought until his death to secure lifetime protection for those who finally broke with the Mafia. And it was a supergrass who decided after Falcone's death that he'd had enough, and came forward with the information which led to Madonia's arrest.

Like Kipling's Strickland, who 'held the extraordinary theory that a policeman in India should try to know as much about the natives as the natives themselves', Falcone saw that the key to confronting Cosa Nostra lay in knowing as much as possible about the organisation and its members. But he never tried to pass himself off as anything other than what he was. He went once to Germany to interview a Mafia boss who addressed him as 'Mr Falcone'. He stood up and hit back. 'No wait, you are Mr So-and-So, I am Judge Falcone.'

As he put it, 'my message hit its target and the boss apologised. He knew all too well why I was refusing the title of Mister, which, by not recognising my role, reduced me to insignificance.'

He was a Sicilian, born and brought up in Palermo, who had played table tennis as a boy with schoolmates who became Mafia bosses. He knew their language and their hidden meanings, the warnings concealed in the inflection of their voices. 'The interpretation of signs, of gestures, of messages and silences is one of the principal activities of the man of honour,' he writes. 'And consequently of the magistrate who investigates him.'

He neither underestimated nor romanticised the Mafia. His studies showed that the method they chose to kill an opponent was dictated solely by one principle, 'the shortest and least dangerous path'. There was incaprettamento or 'goat strangling', for instance, where the wrists and ankles are tied behind the back and at the same time round the neck of the victim, so that in attempting to break free he strangles himself. Falcone dismissed speculation that this was a punishment reserved for the most cowardly traitors. 'The reason for using this method is in fact much more banal: it is that the neatly packaged corpse can be transported more easily in the boot of a car.'

Falcone stressed that Cosa Nostra is not anti-state, but rather a parallel organisation that seeks to profit from illegal economic activity. Nor is it a social service that operates for the benefit of all, but rather an exclusive association which acts against all society for the sole benefit of its members. Nor, on the other hand, should the Mafia be demonised. 'If we want to fight the Mafia organisation efficiently, we must not transform it into a monster or think of it as an octopus. We must recognise that it resembles us.'

This book talks about the way the Mafia is organised. It is the most complete guide that exists to the mentality of the mafioso; Falcone reckoned there were more than 5,000 men of honour who had been enrolled into the organisation in Sicily. He does not provide a history of the Mafia, but rather analyses it within the context of a largely compliant Sicilian society and a state whose commitment to fighting it is at best sporadic. Yet he himself remained undaunted right up to his death.

'There's no doubt that we will have to fight the Mafia for a long time to come,' he said. 'For a long time, but not for eternity. Because the Mafia is a human phenomenon, and like all such human phenomena, it has a beginning, an evolution, and will also therefore have an end.'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Countries that have relaxed sex-worker laws have seen a fall in Aids infections but no increase in street-based prostitution  

As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law

Crystal
A still from Central African Republic: Descent into Chaos  

Rory Peck Awards 2014 News Finalist: Pacôme Pabandji

Independent Voices
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London