Blood Brotherhoods: The Rise of the Italian Mafias, by John Dickie, Sceptre, RRP£20, 448 pages
John Dickie’s much-praised Cosa Nostra (2004) documented the rise of the Sicilian Mafia; this expansive follow-up widens his focus to include the two lesser-known gangster “brotherhoods” – the Neopolitan Camorra and the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta – and their role in the history of Italy’s underworld.
The author describes how these “honoured societies” were formed in the dungeons of 19th-century Naples, whence they emerged to form separate factions with distinct methods and rituals. The Camorra collapsed in 1915 after a turncoat broke the code of silence, but the other clans were more devious. They infiltrated the highest spheres of society in southern Italy and a “criminal ecosystem” took root.
Although Dickie devotes much attention to individual crimes, occasionally losing his thread amid a mass of detail, his narrative bowls along, powered by the sort of muscular prose one associates with great detective fiction. An exhilarating history.