Defiance

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Tom Behan, IB Tauris, £15.99

Few phenomena of Italian society fascinate like the Mafia, with its violent energy and romantic attachment to ancient ritual. But the defiance which gives this book its name is not the Mafia's, a deeply conservative organisation, but that of Peppino Impastato, who paid for his anti-Mafia activism with his life.

The moment visitors to Sicily touch down in Palermo airport they are in "Mafiopoli", Mafia town. Tom Behan focuses on the small town of Cinisi, home to Palermo airport, built by organised crime, to illuminate how crime is instituted in the very core of society.

Before all else, the Mafia are bullying bosses of thousands of construction workers, and as Behan points out, the kneecaps shattered by pistols and dead bodies paraded on horseback pale in significance to the number of workplace injuries and deaths. This is met with compliance from the council, the collusion of politicians (many of whom are fascist), and police who prefer to hound organised crime's opponents.

The life story of Peppino Impastato is fascinating, not least for the fact that his father was a prominent Mafia man. Gathering young activists around him, Peppino's anti-Mafia activity pulled no punches. His opinions were spelt out in the title of an early article, "The Mafia - a Mountain of Shit". Peppino's conviction was that "a dramatic situation of gang warfare must be avoided in our country. Mass struggles must become the driving force of social transformation," and for this he was blown apart - killed while campaigning for election as a Proletarian Democracy candidate.

In the face of official police and political disavowal of Peppino, it took two decades and the determined fight of his family to bring the Mafia to justice for his killing.

Behan brings this alive in a thoroughly researched and consistently engaging way, explaining his story in a popularly accessible manner and against the "bigger picture" of Italy's politics, economics, and history.

Peppino finally achieved the recognition he deserved, the day of his death an annual anti-Mafia protest, and the story of his life made into one of Italy's most successful films, The Hundred Steps. But, Behan is clear, for justice to really prevail in society, a mass movement against the inequality that fosters crime must continue.