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Tuesday, October 17, 2017


The Mezzogiorno Social Club


Ercole Gaudioso
Guernica Editions / 2017
ISBN 978-1-77183-165-9 
Paperback/ 290 Pages
Available Now 

It should be said, right off the bat that this is a story of cops and mobsters. Crafted with characters that wear the dust and the crime on their clothes, The Mezzogiorno Social Club is a sweeping novel that carries the weight of tradition, generations, and a code of living divided by a thin line between crime and the cops who keep the peace. 

This novel moves across a hundred years, woven through the years with a variety of thugs, bosses, scams, hits, and money all coursing through the veins of "the neighborhood." This is Ercole Gaudioso's world. While this book spans a hundred years in Little Italy, filled with mob hits, complicated crime syndicates, and the life of cops working the streets. Over the course of the novel, not only do we meet the characters and their motives in Little Italy, we also understand the culture that is "the neighborhood." And while it begins in a rustic, horsedrawn world of shops, carriage houses, and small dim bars, the emerging world is not only their place in the world, but it is well worth protecting and holding for the future. 

Beyond the legacy of the neighborhood, Gaudioso gives us a dynamic cast of criminals, cops, politicians, and their families. Detective Joe Petrosino is one of the most intriguing characters. A hard-boiled detective who knows everyone in the neighborhood knows how to apply pressure with a beating or some jail time, he is constantly working a lead, getting information, trying to figure out what it means to settle down and get married. Rosina and Lucia, sisters from Italy manage to find their way in the neighborhood when they are alone (Rosina a widow) begin running a dress shop that rises with the crime rate and the influence of the men who adore them. These families move through the early years in a feel that reminds the reader of Gang's of New York and Boardwalk Empire, we are hurled through the Great Depression and into the World War. As the book picks up speed, the neighborhood shifts into a new generation of bosses and organization. The more families, thugs, and bosses try to hold onto the neighborhood - the cops and history push back. 

His adroit and often matter-of-fact descriptions are very satisfying in describing some of his characters. "The Digger was Marcello Ulina, a loose limbed man with a long face that grinned on its own. Doctors had told him that the nerves and muscles, not the devil, made his face happy. A priest agreed and splashed him with holy water." In these finely tuned descriptions, we not only understand the vision of the character, but we also understand how they relate to the neighborhood. In describing Philomena Matruzzo, not only do we understand where she has been, but where she might be going when he says, "When Philomena Matruzzo, the strong, contented woman whom Lucia Burgundi envied and respected, got off the boat in 1903, she had no baby and one husband. A year later she had one baby and no husband." These characters carry the weight of the neighborhood struggles, crime, and the life in this evolving world. 

The threads of plot and connections in the story are innovative and connective. Amazingly, this novel arcs across time, there are connections and story elements that connect one generation to another. This is more than just a mob book, this is a sweeping vision of family, connection, crime, and people who made their lives around generations of tradition, crime, and money. Gaudioso knows a thing or two about mob families and history, serving as a New York law enforcement officer, he spent five years in the investigation resulting in the arrest of forty Gambino Family members. This is a brilliant, poignant, and well-crafted debut novel.