Excerpt from The Good Mothers by Alex Perry, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Good Mothers

The Story of the Three Women Who Took on the World's Most Powerful Mafia

by Alex Perry

The Good Mothers by Alex Perry X
The Good Mothers by Alex Perry
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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I

The symbol of Milan is a giant serpent devouring a screaming child.1 The first city of northern Italy has had other totems: a woolly boar, a golden Madonna, and, more recently, the designer labels that make Milan the fashion capital of the world. But the eight-hundred- year- old image of a curled snake sinking its fangs into the writhing, blood-soaked body of an infant has remained its most popular emblem, adorning flags and bas-reliefs on the city walls, the Alfa Romeo badge, and the Inter Milan jersey. It's an oddly menacing standard for a people more normally associated with family and food, and a strangely crude one for a city whose artistry reaches the sublime heights of da Vinci's The Last Supper—and most Milanese generally profess ignorance of its meaning. In more candid moments, however, some will confess they suspect that the image owes its endurance to the way it illuminates a dark truth at the heart of their city: that the dynamism and accomplishment for which Milan is famous depends on, among other things, whom you are prepared to destroy.

In the four days they spent in Milan in late November 2009 before her father killed her mother, then erased any trace of her from the world, Denise Cosco could almost believe her family had transcended its own special darkness. Denise was seventeen. Her mother was Lea Garofalo, a thirty-five- year- old mafioso's daughter, and her father was Carlo Cosco, a thirty-nine- year- old cocaine smuggler. Lea had married Carlo at sixteen, had Denise at seventeen, witnessed Carlo and his brother kill a man in Milan at twenty-one, and helped send Carlo to the city's San Vittore prison at twenty-two. Denise had grown up on the run. For six years, from 1996 to 2002, Lea had hidden herself and her daughter away in the narrow, winding alleys of the medieval town of Bergamo in the foothills of the Alps. Lea had made it a game—two southern girls hiding out in Italy's gray north—and in time the two had become each other's world. When they walked Bergamo's cobbled streets, an elfin pair holding hands and curling their dark hair behind their ears, people took them for sisters.

One night in 2000, Lea glanced out of their apartment to see her old Fiat on fire. In 2002, after a scooter was stolen and their front door set alight, Lea told Denise she had a new game for them—and she walked hand in hand with her ten-year- old daughter into a carabinieri station, where she announced to the startled desk officer that she would testify against the mafia in return for witness protection. From 2002 to 2008, mother and daughter had lived in government safe houses. For the past eight months, for reasons Denise understood only in part, they'd been on their own once more. Three times Carlo's men had caught up with them. Three times Lea and Denise had escaped. But by spring 2009, Lea was exhausted and out of money, and she told Denise they were down to their two last options: either they somehow found the cash to flee to Australia, or Lea had to make peace with Carlo.

If neither was likely, reconciliation with Carlo at least seemed possible. The state had dropped its efforts to prosecute him using Lea's evidence, and while that infuriated her, it also meant she was no longer a threat to him. In April 2009, she sent her husband a message saying they should forgive and forget, and Carlo appeared to agree. The threats stopped and there were no more burned-out cars. Carlo began taking Denise on trips around the old country in Calabria. One September night he even talked Lea into a date and they drove down to the coast, talking into the early hours about the summer they'd met, all those years before.

So when in November 2009 Carlo invited his wife and daughter to spend a few days with him in Milan, and Denise, her hand over the phone, looked expectantly at her mother, Lea shrugged and said OK, they'd make a short break of it. Lea's memories of Milan in winter were of a cold, dismal city, the trees like black lightning against the sky, the icy winds tumbling like avalanches through the streets. But Denise would love Milan's shops, Lea and Carlo needed to talk about Denise's future, and ever since the summer Lea had found herself wondering about Carlo again. Twenty years earlier, he had held her face in his gorilla hands and promised to take her away from the mafia and all the killing—and Lea had believed him chiefly because he seemed to believe himself. Lea still wore a gold bracelet and necklace Carlo had given her back then. There was also no doubt that Carlo loved Denise. Maybe Denise was right, thought Lea. Perhaps the three of them could start over. The idea that Carlo's new geniality was part of some elaborate plot to catch her off guard was just too far-fetched. There were easier ways to kill someone.

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Excerpted from The Good Mothers by Alex Perry. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Perry. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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