‘Night after night, day after day, month after month, I had lain behind my rifle. Through scorching summers, chilling autumns, endless winters and wet, numbing springs, I had kept the enemy in my crosshairs. I had burned my eyes with looking. I had survived other snipers, gun attacks, suicide bombers, tanks, mortars, rocket grenades, booby-traps, trip-wires, stray air strikes, artillery strikes, heavy machine guns and remote controlled mines. On a diet of scavenged cheese, jam, the occasional yoghurt and biscuits, I had wasted away to the weight of a thirteen-year-old boy. Without sleep, I lurked in the abyss between adrenalin and exhaustion. So many of my friends had died that I had acquired a new, unwanted duty: to survive in order to keep their memories alive. Observing, waiting, shooting — I packed all life into that tight existence. If you had seen me back then, carrying my trigger finger through the sharp edges of war as though it were a baby, you would have understood that human beings can survive almost anything if they have purpose.’
“A book to marvel at, learn from, and return to again and again”. John le Carré
to be published worldwide in 2018
Founded more than 150 years ago by old shepherding families and orange farmers in the toe of southern Italy, the Calabrian Mafia is one of the richest and most ruthless organized crime syndicates in the world. Italian prosecutors say it runs 70% of the cocaine in Europe. It manages billion-dollar extortion rackets. It plunders the Italian state and the European Union. It brokers illegal arms deals to criminals, rebels and terrorists around the world, including ISIS, and has franchises from America to Australia, and from Cairo to Cape Town.
The Calabrians make so much money – an estimated $50-100 billion a year, equivalent to 3.5% of Italian GDP – that hiding it requires industrial-scale laundering. Those efforts ensure the Calabrians are in all our lives. We live in their buildings, work in their companies, shop in their stores, eat in their restaurants and elect political parties they fund. Most incredible of all: few people have ever heard of them. The ’Ndrangheta – an ancient Calabrese word, pronounced un-drung-get-a, meaning loyalty and courage – is a secret even to many Italians. Only in the last few years has the Italian state understood its scale.
The ’Ndrangheta’s power, as with all organised crime, depends upon silence – omertà – and violence. The ’Ndrangheta’s genius lies in how it hijacked the Italian family to enforce loyalty. The same 140 Calabrese families who founded the ’Ndrangheta in the 19th century make up most of its members today. You are either born in, or you marry in. Loyalty is absolute. Bloodshed is revered. You go to prison or your grave, and you kill your own father, brother, sister or mother, before you betray The Family.
Underpinning this iron rule is violent chauvinism and a conviction among the men that women are chattels where property and honour converge. Girls are married off in arranged clan alliances as soon as they turn 13, and then largely confined to the home. Beatings are routine. A woman who is unfaithful – even to a dead husband – can expect her sons, brothers or father to kill her, before dissolving her body in acid to erase the family’s shame.
Yet in 2009, when one abused ’Ndrangheta wife was murdered for turning state’s evidence, a state prosecutor named Alessandra Cerreti confronted a tantalising possibility: that the ’Ndrangheta’s murderous bigotry may be its great flaw, and her most devastating weapon. In pursuit of this belief, Alessandra persuaded two more Mafia wives to testify in return for a new future for themselves and their children. Their evidence brought down a billion-dollar crime family, precipitating a small avalanche of betrayals from other women that threatens the ’Ndrangheta’s entire global criminal empire.
The stakes could not have been higher. Alessandra was fighting to save a nation. The Mafiosi were fighting for their existence. Their women were fighting for their lives. Not all would survive.
NOMINATED FOR THE 2019 EDGAR ALLAN POE AWARD FOR BEST FACT CRIME
REVIEWS OF THE GOOD MOTHERS
‘An essential addition to the growing library on organized crime. Perry keeps the emphasis on the risks taken by a brave few Calabrian women [who] at great personal cost — the ultimate cost, in two cases — took down vicious clans and shattered the myth of mafia invulnerability. Human drama [and] Perry’s deep research … shape the moment-to-moment intensity … of the narrative. Giuseppina Pesce is a character worthy of Elena Ferrante. The women’s triumph is but one battle in the war against what Perry calls a “global mafia.” His book celebrates how a few heroes made a significant change for the better — in a “display of adamant and unyielding femininity.”‘ John Domini, Washington Post
‘Journalist Perry has crafted an enormously significant and compelling look at the modern world of the Italian mafia in this brilliant work… In a staggeringly impressive work of investigative reporting, Perry follows the stories of three women who tried to break free of ’Ndrangheta and the prosecutors who risked their lives to help them. Perry’s precise accounting of the disturbing way in which the Mafia upends the values of love and family while destroying so many lives is truly eye-opening… This exposé about the suffering and resilience of “good mothers” is a life-changing read.’ Colleen Mondor, Booklist (starred review)
‘The painful and dangerous process of these women’s rebellion against the family makes a gripping and heart-breaking narrative.’ Clare Longrigg, Observer
‘With elegant forays into the harsh landscape of Calabria, and digressions on Godfather-inspired tourism, The Good Mothers is more than a mafia story, critiquing the allure of exploitative tales of power and destruction, and using empathy as a defense against any temptation towards the lurid.’ Crime Reads, Best Crime Books of 2018 (non-fiction).
‘[A] tense, thriller-like examination of the ’Ndrangheta’s ruthless modus operandi and the barbaric enforcement of its code of silence… Good mothers, seriously gutsy women.’ Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald
‘As well as providing a window into the worlds of three very complex women, Perry’s book is a journey through Italy’s horrifying, still-powerful underworld.’ Isaac Chotiner, Slate
‘The highly compelling story of the women who dared to break omertà, the mafia code of silence. In fully developing his subjects, Perry shows remarkable empathy for their plights. In this captivating true-crime narrative, the author paints a frightening and intimate picture of women’s misery under the rule of organized crime. An impossible-to-put-down page-turner.’ Kirkus (starred review)
‘Riveting. A feminist tale [that] reads like a thriller. The Good Mothers tells the story of a battle partially won, at enormous cost, by the women who turned against a brutal, family-based criminal cult. Perry brings to light stories in intimate detail … [it] feels at times like Perry was there.’ Alice Speri, The Intercept
‘The Good Mothers is flawlessly executed, with every aspect of the story covered. Perry’s narrative is crisp and moves along with the pace and intensity of an action-adventure novel. A must-read.’ Kim Kovacs, Book Browse
‘Excellently documented and compellingly written’. Volksrant
“As good as The Sopranos was, it could not supplant the real story. And that’s just what The Good Mothers is – the real story of the women who came forward to attack the inner-workings of southern Italy’s most brutal mafia. Alex Perry’s writing here shines, as he uses the sharp eye of a journalist to capture all sides of the story. The Good Mothers reads like a movie, and aficionados of gangster films will love it.” John Aiello, Electric Review
‘There has truly never been a better time to read about the brave women who brought down one of the most powerful organized crime outfits.’ Bustle
‘Even today precious little is known about the ’Ndrangheta [but] Perry’s account is thorough and wrenching.’ Jackson Holohan, Christian Science Monitor
‘Perry has ably pieced together a number of remarkable stories. His focus … [in his] fast-moving book … is on the women who, sickened by years of abuse and bullying, decided that they would take no more.’ Caroline Moorehead, Times Literary Supplement
‘Alex Perry takes us into the patriarchal, ultra-violent world of the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s powerful, drug-dealing mafia, and the stories of the women who have defied its iron grip.’ LitHub.com, (rave review)
‘Alex Perry writes a compelling narrative worthy of the great American true crime nonfiction writers like Jeff Guinn, John Krakauer and Hampton Sides. Like them, Perry understands that true crime is always about more than crime. The story of the ’Ndrangheta women is a story of the dark side of globalisation and a story of the evils in closed communities. And in the #MeToo era, it is an inspiration worldwide to struggles against misogyny and authoritarianism.’ Max Dunbar, Shiny New Books
‘The Good Mothers is an electrifying story of three women who risked everything to bring down Calabrian Mafia, one of the most obscenely rich and ruthless crime syndicates in the world. A captivating feminist story of true crime and retribution, this is a spine-chilling account of courage and the price of justice.’ Culturefly, non-fiction highlights of 2018
TWITTER REACTION TO THE GOOD MOTHERS
‘Extraordinary reporting, extraordinary storytelling.’ Lev Grossman
‘Both harrowing and heartening … and told with Alex Perry’s usual verve.’ Tom Burgis, Financial Times
TWITTER REACTION EXTRACT IN THE NEW YORKER
‘A brilliant read.’ Devika Bhat, The Times
‘This is something special.’ Nicholas Schmidle, New Yorker
‘Incredible.’ Adam Serwer, Atlantic
‘Phenomenal.’ Isaac Chotiner, Slate
‘Fantastic.’ Alberto Nardelli, Buzzfeed
Paperback due out in mid 2017
Taking the Great Rift Valley – the geological fault that will eventually tear Africa in two – as his central metaphor, Alex Perry explores the split between a resurgent Africa and a world at odds with its rise. Africa has long been misunderstood – and abused – by outsiders. Perry travelled the continent for most of a decade, meeting with entrepreneurs and warlords, professors and cocaine smugglers, presidents and jihadis, among many others.
Opening with a devastating investigation into a largely unreported war crime in Somalia in 2011, he finds Africa at a moment of furious self-assertion. This is a remade continent, defiantly rising from centuries of oppression to become an economic and political titan: where cash is becoming a thing of the past, where astronomers are unlocking the origin of life and where, twenty-five years after Live Aid, Ethiopia’s first yuppies are traders on an electronic food exchange. Yet, as Africa finally wins the substance of its freedom, it must confront the three last false prophets of Islamists, dictators and aid workers, who would keep it in its bonds.
What would it take to save millions of lives in Africa?
In 2006, the Wall Street pioneer and philanthropist Ray Chambers flicked through some holiday snapshots taken by his friend, development economist Jeff Sachs, and remarked on the placid beauty of a group of sleeping Malawian children. “They’re not sleeping,” Sachs told him. “They’re in malarial comas. A few days later, they were all dead.” Chambers had long avoided the public eye, but this moment sparked his determination to coordinate an unprecedented, worldwide effort to eradicate a disease that has haunted humanity since before the advent of medicine.
Award-winning journalist Alex Perry obtained unique access to Chambers, now the UN Special Envoy for Malaria. In this book, Perry weaves together science and history with on-the-ground reporting and a riveting exposé of the workings of humanitarian aid to document Chambers’ campaign. By replacing traditional ideas of assistance with business acumen and hustle, Chambers saved millions of lives, and upturned current notions of aid, forging a new path not just for the developing world but for global business and philanthropy.
Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, international corporations and governments have embraced the idea of a global village: a shrinking, booming world in which everyone benefits. What if that’s not the case? Alex Perry, award-winning foreign correspondent, travels from the South China Sea to the highlands of Afghanistan to the Sahara to see first-hand globalization at the sharp end — and it’s not pretty. Whether it’s Shenzen, China’s boom city where sweatshops pay under-age workers less than $4 a day, or Bombay, where the gap between rich and poor means million-dollar apartments overlook million-people slums, or on the high seas with the pirates of southeast Asia who prey on the world’s central trade artery, or South Africa, where Mandela’s dream for a Rainbow Nation is being crushed by a new economic apartheid, Perry demonstrates, vividly and chillingly, that for every winner in our brave new world, there are hundreds of millions of losers. And be they Chinese army veterans, Indian Maoist rebels or the Somali branch of al Qaeda, they are all very, very angry. Falling Off the Edge is an adrenaline-charged journey through the developing world, which reveals with clarity that globalization starts wars. Far from living in a time of peace and prosperity, Perry suggests, the boom is about to go bang.