Badfellas by Tonino Benacquista


Benacquista, T. Badfellas. Bitter Lemon Press (2010) Original Title: Malavita (2004). Translated by Emily Read. 285 pages. ISBN: 978-1-904738-43-5.

This is the sixth book I have read from the 2010 CWA International Dagger Award shortlist.

Under cover of darkness, an American family moves as discreetly as possible into a villa in Cholonge-sur-Avre, Normandy. Fred Blake, the father, claims that he is a writer after finding an old typewriter and that he has been commissioned to write about the Landing. The mother, Maggie, helps out with local charities. Their teenage children, Belle and Warren, manage to find their way to school, you meet more and more shapes with satchels going the same way, until all plunge into a sort of black hole. It’s a law of physics.

However the proliferation of some bizarre events makes suspect the installation of these new neighbours. A plumber who angers Fred with delays and exorbitant estimates falls down the stairs and breaks both arms. The manager of the local supermarket insults Maggie behind her back and that afternoon his supermarket burns down. Belle manage to get rid of two boys. One ended up with a bleeding nose, the other almost lost an ear. Warren starts a gang in school to intimidate and extort other pupils.

The reader gradually discovers that Fred Blake is actually Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-Mafia boss who is now part of the FBI’s  Witness Protection Programme. His record in other locations would indicate that this cover is not likely to last very long.

This is a black comedy, an hilarious satire. I found Badfellas very funny, full of black humour. The characters in the book are very well developed and they look pretty credible. Nothing is what it seems. Appearances are deceptive. Even the dog in the book’s cover is not an Australian Cattle Dog as stated in a note from the publishers. A light read but quite entertaining.

Tonino Benacquista, born in France in 1961 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 and a professional parasite on the Paris cocktail circuit, he is now a highly successful author of novels and film scripts. Benacquista won a Cesar in 2006 for the script of Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Benacquista was introduced to English-speaking readers by Bitter Lemon Press with Holy Smoke, a darkly comic crime novel set in Paris and southern Italy. This critically acclaimed title was soon followed by the bestseller Someone Else and Framed, a satirical mystery novel set in the world of Parisian art galleries.

Bitter Lemon Press

Malavita, Traducción de José Luis Sánchez-Silva (Editorial Lengua de Trapo) in Spanish.

Tonino Benacquista website (in French)

Badfellas has been reviewed by Maxine at Petrona, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, Karen at Euro Crime, Norman at Crime Scraps, Rob at The View from the Blue House, Nancy at Crime Segments, Reviewing the Evidence.

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