Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children Belle and Warren move into a villa at Cholong-sur-Avre, Normandy in the middle of the night.
Fred claims to the locals that he is a writer, but his real name is Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-Mafia boss who is the diamond in the FBI witness-protection program. Fred's evidence had sent down Don Mimino, the capo di tutti i capi, for a mere 351 years, and he has a twenty million dollar bounty on his head.
As the American family try to settle into life in a small provincial French town they begin to give themselves away with some eccentric behaviour that is normal in New Jersey, and cause serious problems for their FBI protection team of Tom Quintiliani, Di Cicco and Caputo. All seven frequently show their Italian American origins.
"Butter impregnates the tissues, it blocks everything, it hockey sticks. Olive oil only touches on your insides and slides through, just leaving its scent."
"Olive oil is in the Bible."
It won't be long before their cover is blown.
This book is blurbed as "imagine moving the Soprano family to Normandy" and despite only having watched one episode of The Sopranos I do get the idea.
Tonino Benacquista, born in France of Italian immigrant parents is a highly acclaimed author of crime fiction novels and film scripts in France. I have read his first novel to be translated into English, Holy Smoke, which was great fun.
Badfellas was translated from the French by Emily Read, and luckily none of the black comedy and sharp witty satire seem to have been lost.
The scenes where Fred and Tom Quintiliani go to the local cinema club to see Some Came Running with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and unfortunately the wrong film has been sent are hilarious.
The wrong film, is Goodfellas! And a question from the audience give Fred an opportunity to tell a story, that has villagers phoning friends to come and listen and Quintiliani wondering if he has gone mad.
"When you're living in New York, are you aware of the presence of the Mafia , as shown in films?"
I am one of those old fashioned people who like my crime fiction not to glorify violence, or violent gangs, and for "good" to triumph in the end. That is why I love The Godfather Trilogy because the films have the message of retribution for evil acts, and of course Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part Two produces one of the greatest acting performances in film history.
So I have this little niggle in the back of my mind about Badfellas, and the author choosing a Mafia snitch as the novel's hero?
It is only a little niggle because Badfellas is such an amusing book that keeps the reader's interest with some clever storytelling involving the teenage children's adventures at school, Maggie's [real name Livia] motherly relationship with the FBI minders, unlucky Italian-Americans far from home, and a school magazine's long journey round the world to Ryker's Island.
In New Jersey, the man with the stupid hat would not have survived more than two weeks, he would have been taught to hold his tongue from earliest childhood,or he would have had it cut off with a razor-sharp switchblade-the operation wouldn't have taken a minute.