Review: The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York ~ C. Alexander Hortis

the mobISBN ~ 978-1616149239
Publisher ~Prometheus Books
No. Of Pages ~382 pages
Links ~ Prometheus Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Informative, authoritative, and eye-opening, this is the first full-length book devoted exclusively to uncovering the hidden history of how the Mafia came to dominate organized crime in New York City during the 1930s through 1950s.  Based on exhaustive research of archives and secret files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, author and attorney C. Alexander Hortis draws on the deepest collection of primary sources, many newly discovered, of any history of the modern mob.

Shattering myths, Hortis reveals how Cosa Nostra actually obtained power at the inception.  The author goes beyond conventional who-shot-who mob stories, providing answers to fresh questions such as:

* Why did the Sicilian gangs come out on top of the criminal underworld?
* Can economics explain how the Mafia families operated?
* What was the Mafia’s real role in the drug trade?
* Why was Cosa Nostra involved in gay bars in New York since the 1930s?

Drawing on an unprecedented array of primary sources, The Mob and the City is the most thorough and authentic history of the Mafia’s rise to power in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

3 Thumbs-UpThis was a really hard book to give a rating to; from the content point of view this book would have been awarded a full 4 thumbs as it was obviously well researched, and very interesting reading.  It takes everything the reader thinks they know about the Mafia and puts it into context.  It dispels a lot of the myth and romanticism that surrounds this group of people and shows them for what they really were.  The Book itself seemed to be aimed at those who already have knowledge of the Underworld workings of the mafia, but this doesn’t take away from it being a very informative read for those who are dipping into Mafia history for the first time.

Although this book is written very much like a history text; it includes sociology, economics and geography with some very detailed tables, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just someone’s lecture notes that they had bound into a book.  There was an over use of the phrases ‘as you will see’ or ‘now let us look at’ that just made it feel as if this particular take on the subject of the Mafia was meant to be heard not read.  Throw in the overlong chapter subheadings which appear on every page, and you have a writing style that I could only rating as 2 thumbs, and that was being kind.

My initial reasoning behind picking this up was an interest in Early New York, particularly the Italian side of things, as I have Family members who lived in this era and area.  This book did shed a great deal of light on life in the time period covered by the book, but not enough to give the boost to the rating it so sorely needs.  In the end I decided to split the difference between the two above rating points and give it a three.

The book was informative, but extremely dull in places which was a shame given the amount of research that had gone into it.  Maybe with a stricter editor, who was willing to cut out a lot of the ‘lecture’ speak, this could have been a lot less tedious and grating.  I would recommend it to anyone that is interesting in this subject, but be warned it may not be what you are expecting.


Review: From Mangia to Murder (Sophia Mancini Mysteries #1) ~ Caroline Mickelson

From Mangia to MurderLittle Italy, 1946 – Sophia Mancini would have enjoyed the grand opening celebration of her family’s private detective agency if the volatile chef at Vincenzo’s Ristorante had actually survived the meal. But before Sophia’s chilled spoon hit the spumoni, someone plunged a knife into Vincenzo’s back and the word on everyone’s lips went from mangia to murder.

Sophia soon finds herself trailing crime boss Frankie Vidoni, chatting with his mouthy mistress Maria, and dodging henchman Mooch DiMuccio. She’s suspicious of Vincenzo’s widow, Stella, and his assistant chef, Eugene, because they don’t appear the least bit dismayed by Vincenzo’s passing. There is no conversation Sophia won’t eavesdrop on, no question she won’t ask, and no danger she won’t face to find the killer.

4 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut work for this Author and the first in the Sophia Mancini Mystery series, and is a delightful cozy mystery set in the post war world of Little Italy.  With this setting the novel brings to the reader a reminder of a time and social etiquette that is beginning to fade from memory.

The main protagonist is a post war female, adjusting to living in a world where women once again have to take a back seat to the whims of the males in their lives.  She is written with humour, warmth and strength coming out of the pages as a woman who is determined to make her own way in the world, despite of all the restrictions imposed on her.  The Author manages to instil in her characters the speech and manners of the time, and dresses them according to the fashion trends, which must have required some research on the part of the writer.  The extended family is painted with all the rich texture and whimsy one would expect from an Italian family transplanted not that long ago into America, and gives them traits that can still be found in the older generations of such families today.  All the Authors characters are loving created, and the reader is able to feel connected to in some way to one or more of them as they progress through the book, investing their time into seeing what the outcome will be for these people who, at times, make you feel like you are not only a part of the family but of the community as a whole.

The setting for the novel is, in itself and for me, one I had never come across before and this added to my enjoyment of the book very much.  I could smell the aromas from the numerous Italian restaurants and cafes, hear the mixture of the Italian and American voices, and feel the mistrust there was for anyone they deemed to be outsiders.  In her locale, the Author did an outstanding job of bringing into their writing that sense of community, where the whole neighbourhood supports and aids their fellow-man, regardless of the situation.  The importance of religion in this locale is a part of the novel too, but not to a point where it became preachy, it is just there as part of the everyday life.  There is a lot of dialogue, and well there should be considering the nationality of the players in this novel; it is at times quick and rapidly fired at the reader, with sprinklings of Italian and lots of humour that will make you chuckle and, at times forget that you are actually reading a murder mystery.

There is one thing that really would have made this the perfect little book for me, and that would have been the inclusion of some of the recipes to items the characters eat as they sleuth their way to the conclusion.  Alas, it was not to be, so I’ll have to content myself with hoping that somewhere in the rest of this series, the Author may decide to include one or two recipes per book, to add even more flavour to her writing.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries and anyone looking for a new, easy to read and enjoyable series to follow.  I look forward to the next instalment.