8 July 2010

Review: BADFELLAS, Tonino Benacquista

First published in French as MALAVITA 2004
Translated into English by Emily Read 2010
Published by Bitter Lemon Press 2010
ISBN 978-1-904738-43-5
283 pages

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.

My rating 4.4

You might enjoy these reviews: Crime Scraps, Reactions to Reading, Petrona, The View from the Blue House, Euro Crime.

Author Information
Tonino Benacquista, born in France of Italian immigrants, dropped out of film studies to finance his writing career. After being, in turn, a museum night-watchman, a train guard on the Paris-Rome line...

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this fine review. You raise the very interesting question of what "counts" as crime fiction, and I always think that's fascinating...

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