cover image Capo


Rudolf Steiner, Peter Watson. Richard Cohen Books, $17.95 (437pp) ISBN 978-1-86066-011-5

Watson, well-known for both nonfiction (From Manhattan to Manet) and fiction (Landscape of Lies), gives Puzo a run for his money with this stunning tale of the Sicilian Mafia's roots and burgeoning power in New Orleans. Set in the late 19th century, Capo follows the life and criminal education of orphan Sylvano (Silvio) Randazzo. Silvio is taken in by his uncle Nino, Don of Bivona; but the two must flee Sicily after Nino kidnaps and disfigures an English priest. Traveling as Nino's companion and soldato, Silvio is initiated into the underworld in quick and brutal fashion. By the time they arrive in the U.S., Silvio's ""brains, blood and balls"" have assured him a future in the family business. As Silvio rises from soldato to capo, he gains everything he thought he wantedDnotoriety, power and moneyDbut pays dearly. Loosely based on actual incidents that took place in Sicily and New Orleans, Capo is exceptionally well written and fraught with plot twists to rival the Godfather novels. From Silvio's constant questioning (""Sono mostro? he thought. Am I a monster?"") and Nino's volatility, Capo is as mesmerizing as it is violent. Watson's knowledge is broad and convincing, and his re-creation all the more chilling through abundant use of historical fact, precise language and authentic glimpses of bustling city life. Although Silvio and Nino are killers, readers will root for them because they areDin their own minds as well as oursDhonorable men bound to a code of conduct from which there was no escape. (Feb.)