Badfellas, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Under cover of darkness, an American family moves into a villa in Cholong-sur-Avre in Normandy.

Fred Blake, the father, tells everyone he is there to write a history of the Allied landings.

His wife Maggie gets involved in a local charity; their teenage children enrol in the lycee.

At first glance a family like any other. But Fred's real name is Giovanni Manzoni - an ex-Mafia boss who has grassed and is now part of the FBI's witness-protection program. And his record in other locations would indicate that his cover is not likely to last very long.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9781904738435



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Review by

When the Blake family move into a villa in Normandy in the middle of the night, it is the most recent in a chain of moves. For they are no ordinary family. The father Fred Blake is an ex-Mafia boss and the family is part of the FBI's witness-protection programme. They are forced to move whenever their latest location is discovered. The teenage children, a son and daughter, have learnt to make the best of things, and seem remarkably resilient.With the family comes the FBI watchers who take up residence in a house opposite, and keep the Blakes under 24/7 observation, and monitor not only their phone calls but those of neighbours. The family are instructed not to draw attention to themselves, but for Fred, wife Maggie, son Warren, and daughter Belle, staying out of the limelight is exceptionally difficult. This time Fred takes up the guise of an author, and even begins to type up his memoirs. Maggie takes an interest in local good works, while the children seem to settle down well at the local school. Each however is following his or her own agenda.But Fred's status as an author brings a certain notoriety, and each of others show talents that push them forward in their own spheres. Add to that the fact that Fred is not really a tolerant man, and used to making his point of view in his own violent way. The story is full of macabre humour and satire. I felt throughout as if it had been written with one eye on its potential as a screen play.But is it crime fiction? Well, deaths occur, but mysteries they are not. The threads resolve eventually in a way I should have seen coming, but that in some senses I found disappointing.And perhaps it says something that the character I liked best was Malavita the dog, an ash-grey Australian Cattle Dog, which by the way, is not the dog on the cover.BADFELLAS has been short-listed for the 2010 CWA International Dagger.

Review by

The blurb on the cover of <i>Badfellas</i> asks readers to imagine that the FBI’s witness protection programme has moved the Soprano family to Normandy. Having only ever watched three-quarters of an episode of the tv show that everyone but me loves I couldn’t quite manage that but I got the general idea. Giovanni Manzoni was a major Mafia boss who snitched on just about everyone in his organisation, ensuring many of them would be incarcerated for decades. What’s left of the Mafia are determined to kill him (and if honour isn’t reason enough there’s a $20million reward on offer) and the FBI is just as determined to keep him alive so that others will be tempted to become snitches. Manzoni and his family have been moved several times for their protection and as this book opens they are now known as the Blake family and are settling in the small town of Cholong-sur-Avre in France.<br/><br/>Given I generally avoid books and movies featuring mafia/organised crime as a central plot element I’m sure I missed loads of references to other works on this theme though even I picked up a few. But even without this intimate knowledge I could appreciate the satire and dark humour of <i>Badfellas</i> which is due to clever, quite sparse writing and an excellent translation by Emily Read. I especially liked the entire sections of the book which have little to do with things-Mafia, such as the parallels drawn between the present-day circumstances in the Region and Normandy’s WWII ‘invasion’ by Americans which are very amusingly done. There’s also a brilliant passage describing how the presence of the Blake/Manzoni family in France finally gets back to the head of the Cosa Nostra in his New York prison cell that’s almost worth the price of the book alone.<br/><br/>For me the most interesting aspect of the novel was the depiction of the impact of the exile on all the characters, including the repugnant Fred/Giovanni. In some ways he is the most affected, having lost his status and his raison d’être, but I couldn’t summon an ounce of sympathy for him and in fact his general attitude still makes me cranky enough that I shan’t talk about him any more. Maggie, whose real name is Livia, is his wife and she is also deeply affected by the exile. She misses her friends and family, but also feels such guilt over her circumstances and the part she played in her husband’s actions that she develops an almost unstoppable zeal for doing good to redeem herself. She cooks wonderful food for the poor FBI agents who assigned as their guardians because they too have to live away from their families for long periods of time and she becomes heavily involved in charitable pursuits in the town. Their two children Belle and Warren are also deeply affected by their father’s actions, though in Warren’s case it has a particularly surprising result as the 14-year old plots how he will recapture the place in the organisation that his father lost by his cowardly actions.<br/><br/>Overall I loved the writing and the way <i>Badfellas</i> is constructed and would recommend it based on these terrific attributes. But I am, like Norman at Crime Scraps, still a little conflicted about the content of the book. Because although Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni is revealed as a repellent human being with no redeeming qualities that I could discern he does, essentially, get away with murder. Repeatedly. And something about that irks me. I can deal with a book that has no morality to it at all, but I struggle just a bit harder to deal with a book which seems to suggest, however subtly, that crime pays. And that hideous, murderous crime pays a villa in the French countryside.<br/><br/>My rating 3.5/5

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