The Blakes, aka the Manzonis have just moved into a small town in Normandy in the middle of the night. Fred and Maggie are married with two teenagers: Belle and Warren. When they first arrived in France they also acquired Malavita, a well-behaved dog, who spends most of her time sleeping, but plays a crucial role when it counts.
The Blakes first arrived in France six years earlier in Paris. The family has fond memories of the capital, but were forced to move to the Cotes d’Azur a couple of years later, and now suddenly they’ve moved again to Normandy. The primary problem is Fred. As a former mob boss he has a hard time blending into his surroundings and sooner or later draws unwanted attention to himself. This is a frustration for Tom Quintiliani, the Bureau man who is also exiled to Normandy to ensure the family’s safety.
Keeping Fred safe is a challenge not only because Fred is a bored ex-mafia boss, but another jailed mafia boss, Don Mimino has put an eight figure bounty on Fred’s head. Benacquista has fun with these characters and the inevitable show down of the pursuers and the pursued. Fred decides to write his memoirs, telling neighbors he is writing a history of the Normandy invasion. Given the fact that Fred is not a reader, much less a writer, this leads to some hilarity including his impromptu lecture at the village’s movie night.
It’s not easy for this American family that prefers red sauce and pasta to potatoes in butter. Warren, homesick for New Jersey, dreams of restoring his family to power, and uses the wisdom of Al Capone to take control of the boys at school. As I read along I wished Benacquista would have put more oomph into Belle and Maggie. Both show some initial fire, but he doesn’t give them the same spark as Fred and Warren. The book relies a great deal on popular culture’s depiction of the mob, more Goodfellas than The Godfather. I couldn’t help comparing the Blakes/Manzonis to the Sopranos, but given the huge influence of The Sopranos, I imagine it is unavoidable. Malavita is an easy read. I read it at the courthouse while waiting to be called for a jury. I never did get called, but I did finish the book.