BookBrowse Reviews The Good Mothers by Alex Perry

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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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2018, 352 pages

    Aug 2019, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book



A fast-paced, true-crime work about a little-known but immensely powerful mafia family and the women who defied it.

Over time, most readers have formed some opinion of the mafia; between Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of a mob boss in The Godfather and ongoing news stories about Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the concept is a familiar one. In his latest true-crime saga, The Good Mothers, Alex Perry introduces us to a lesser-known Italian crime family – the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta - and the brave women who broke omertà (the mafia's code of silence) to help prosecutors send the family's leaders to prison.

Perry's account is eye-opening and exceptionally relevant, given what we now know is this organization's broad reach. As some of the more notable crime families "[saw] their power steadily eroded by a state crackdown and popular resistance," the 'Ndrangheta (pronounced n-DRAHNG-ghe-ta) gained a massive amount of wealth, driven largely by their ability to take advantage of internationalism. Perry states that by 2010:

It now smuggled 70 to 80 percent of the cocaine in Europe. It plundered the Italian state and the European Union for tens of billions more. It brokered illegal arms deals to criminals, rebels, and terrorists around the world, including several sides in the Syrian civil war…The prosecutors' best guess was that every year the organization amassed revenues of $50 billion to $100 billion, equivalent to up to 3.5 percent of the Italian GDP.

The organization got so good a laundering money that other organized crime groups – Eastern Europeans, Russians, Asians, Africans, Latin Americans – paid them to do the same for their vast sums. "That meant the 'Ndrangheta was managing the flow of hundreds of billions or even trillions of illicit dollars around the world." Their cocaine trade fueled "an unprecedented wave of coups, civil wars, revolutions and assassinations" in West Africa, meaning the 'Ndrangheta was impacting "hundreds of millions of people," according to Perry.

Attempts to disrupt the group's finances by Italy's anti-mafia prosecutors were largely unsuccessful due to the organization's horizonal structure in which few of the 140 families that made up the 'Ndrangheta had complete control or complete knowledge of the group's dealings. Its deeply engrained code of silence also played a significant role; one simply didn't betray the family. However, the group is exceptionally patriarchal; women are seen as chattel and are often brutalized or murdered by their families. Loyalty is absolute to the point that widows who betray the memory of their dead husbands have often been killed. One prosecutor, Alessandra Cerreti, perceived this to be a flaw in the organization, and set about gradually getting a few of the bosses' wives to enter witness protection and testify against their husbands, fathers and brothers. Perry paints a nuanced picture of this heroic woman, providing readers with her motivation for embarking on such a dangerous mission.

Perry goes on to outline the lives of others who ultimately cooperated with authorities and the trials they faced as a result. Giuseppina Pesce, whose testimony led to the prosecution of 64 members of the Pesce clan, faced non-stop intimidation. Her children were used against her, and even her mother refused to refer to her by name, calling her "the collaborator," "the traitor," and "that whore" instead. Pesce continues to live in witness protection but with the knowledge that someday someone will find and kill her to restore the family honor. Indeed, the other two women who gave evidence against the 'Ndrangheta had been murdered by the time Perry started researching the book.

The Good Mothers is flawlessly executed, with every aspect of the story covered; the author depicts not only events, but the organization's history, the beauty of the Italian countryside in which it operates, and the intricacies of bringing the various actors to trial. Perry's narrative is crisp and moves along with the pace and intensity of an action-adventure novel that allows it to appeal to even those who don't regularly read non-fiction. Book groups will find many excellent topics of conversation here, and it's a must-read for fans of true-crime narratives.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2018, and has been updated for the September 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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