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Wednesday
Jan012014

In With the New

January 2014 book release: The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

by Carl Russo

THE DARKEST DAYS of winter behind us, we’re revived by a faith that the new year will be better than the last. Yeah, good luck with that.

But hark! What soulful cry drifts over Mediterranean waves, a seductive song resounding across millennia, beseeching us to come ever nearer? A Siren, serenading us with her ancient, haunting melody. Sure, it just might be the wailing of a police cruiser in Palermo, running down street soldiers of the neighborhood Mafia gang. But it’s too late, we’re mesmerized—Sicily beckons, and Mount Etna roars with approval.

Fantasy aside, there’s no better time to ask Sicily to give up her secrets, and not just because airfare wars have reduced the price of European plane tickets to the cost of pizza for two. February is the perfect month to visit. The thaw below the peaks will be well under way. This is a picture I took last February, not far from the city of Caltanissetta.

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Wednesday
Dec252013

Santa's Got a Brand New Bag

Saint Nick vs. the Sicilian Mob: A True Story

by Carl Russo

‘TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, when all through the malls,
The local extortioner was making his calls.

Mafia Exposed’s favorite yuletide tale has its origins, according to historians, in the ancient settlement of Misterbianco, a suburb of Catania, circa 2010 A.D. It’s an old chestnut about the jolly fat man working pro bono in front of a housewares store during the holiday shopping crunch.

Santa Claus spent his days handing out candy to the good little children at the mall, waiting to catch the naughtiest boy on his list, Salvatore Politini, a “tax collector” for the Santapaola clan.

The secret Santa was, in fact, an undercover agent of the Carabiniere, Italy’s militarized police. The squad placed cameras around the store that for more than a decade had been forced to pay the mob 260 euros a month.

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Thursday
Dec192013

Unsung Heroes, Unstrung Hooligans

A beating by the Mafia didn’t change the mind of one stubborn shopkeeper


by Carl Russo

OUR FASCINATION with the Mafia is in part a leer at the organization’s endless capacity to apply brute force in creative ways. To wit, last month’s story of a screaming victim tossed to ravenous pigs. But we’re also drawn to Mafia stories for the old good/evil dichotomy, Davids versus Goliaths armed to the teeth and cruel.

Giovanni BruscaOne news story with classical overtones is set in Noce, a traffic-snarled quarter of Palermo known as a Mafia stronghold since the late nineteenth century. A series of police crackdowns between October 2012 and March 2013 rid the local business community of pesky extortioners—for a few months, anyway. Cosa Nostra abhors a power vacuum: a new set of “tax collectors” soon descended on Noce merchants, demanding the pizzo—“protection” payments.

Those who hesitated to pay were duly punished, among them an artisanal carpenter who lost his Alfa Romeo to arson and was shot in the leg. Reporters noted that the new Mafia leader behind the attacks, 37-year-old Giuseppe Castelluccio, was also a carpenter. That irony grew darker with another reprisal against a holdout merchant, this time involving a blunt tool essential to the craft trade. But let’s take it back to last summer

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Tuesday
Dec032013

Beneath the Palms: A Mafia Landmark in Palermo to Close

Is it last call at the hotel Lucky Luciano made famous?


by Carl Russo


Lucky Luciano

AFTER WORLD WAR II, America’s population of junkies swelled to hysteria-inducing numbers, courtesy of the New York Mafia families that pushed French-made heroin. The Narcotic Control Act, passed by the US Congress in 1956, took a sledgehammer to the illegal trade: two hundred gangsters suddenly found themselves serving forty-year prison sentences. Their brethren in Sicily, while finding it lucrative to smuggle morphine in orange crates, were still more invested in peddling contraband cigarettes. Lucky Luciano’s Mafia summit of October 1957 changed all that. The Sicilian-born gangster, recently booted from America, summoned New York boss Joe Bonanno and his associates to Palermo for a four-day convention with the leaders of Cosa Nostra.”

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Wednesday
Nov132013

The Blurb is the Word

Authors opine on The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

by Carl Russo

Detail of book coverTHE SLOW REVVING UP up of my book release begins with an Amazon preorder offer (great price!) and that helpful promotional device called The Blurb. Although the US book launch has been delayed by a few weeks to February 1, 2014, followed by a UK rollout a few months later, I'd like to share the opinions of some respected authors kind enough to indulge my manuscript and blurb it. (I thank them.)

Here are few by-the-numbers details for the curious: 244 pages, 55,000 words, 202 photographs, 1 map, 5.5 × 8.5 inches, $18.95 at the brick-and-mortars. Here's a closeup of the cover, and here’s the final page index.

Media inquiries are welcome via email.

 

AUTHORS RECOMMEND

The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

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Saturday
Oct052013

Klieg Light in the Piazza

by Carl Russo

MY LOCAL VIDEO STORE has something Netflix doesn’t: a beautifully rendered bootleg DVD of The Day of the Owl (a.k.a. Il Giorno della Civetta, a.k.a. Mafia; 1968). I’ve waited years to see this filmed version of Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia’s greatest work. Considered the first accurate depiction of the Mafia in fiction, the crime novel was a hot controversy when it was published in 1961—years before the existence of the criminal organization was officially acknowledged in Italy.

Leonardo SciasciaThe film has all the trappings of a sixties international co-production: a widescreen format, slightly garish Technicolor, a dub job of varying accents and an international cast. The Hollywood name attached to the project was Lee J. Cobb, the great heavy who plays untouchable godfather Don Mariano Arena. His American-accented baritone is the only original voice you hear in this English-language version of the film. (I’d like to see and hear the Italian version as well, but then I’d lose Cobb’s essence.)

Claudia Cardinale plays the wife of a disappeared Mafia lackey. Fending for herself, she expresses fear, rage and dignity at once with a furrowing of her brow. (The sixties icon, born of Sicilian parents in Tunisia, commanded the screen five years earlier as the demure Angelica in a more famous coproduction, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, based on Tomasi di Lampedusa’s celebrated Sicilian novel).

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