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
NAMED A CRIMEREADS BEST NONFICTION CRIME BOOK OF 2018
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