Written by Apostolos Doxiadis — Already known for inventing the genre of mathematical fiction with his peculiar novel Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, and with a best-selling graphic novel under his belt in the form of Logicomix, Greek writer Apostolos Doxiadis turns his hand to something equally unique – a folkloric crime story set in Brooklyn around 1900.
Ben Frank, a struggling Italian immigrant and businessman, has turned to drink to deal with life’s little setbacks. But a streak of personal bad luck suddenly careens straight to hell when he kills the only son of a mafia boss during a drunken brawl. The father of the slain man, mobster Tonio Lupo, pays a visit to the ruined man, now in prison for murder. Face= to face in a prison cell, the don wants to personally declare a devastating curse: each of Ben Frank’s three sons, without fail, will die in their 42nd year.
In turn of the century Brooklyn, mafia codes of honour were something taken very seriously indeed, and a maledizione delivered personally by a crime boss in particular is no joke. The doomed father must live out his remaining days in prison with knowledge of the death sentence given to his progeny, a fact he shares only with his eldest son Al.
As Al approaches his 42nd year, his father and the mafia don are both long dead, and he himself has emerged as a successful and prominent businessman. But as his fated 42nd birthday approaches and the question of whether the maledizione is is still in force hounds him more with each passing day. Is there a killer out there waiting patiently to fulfill the curse?
Al isn’t taking any chances, and has in fact built up his retailing empire with the sole purpose of creating a home defense network to shield himself from being whacked. Moreover, he reaches out to as many mobsters as he can find and pays them off in a desperate attempt to short circuit the implacable vector of the curse. Even so, he cannot be certain it is no longer active, although he breathes a little easier holed up in his home fortress on Long Island.
Three Little Pigs is told like a folktale with marked philosophical underpinnings. It is narrated with dry humour by a mysterious old man near the end of his days who has latched onto a stranger with a tape recorder in order to tell the tale. The narrator’s droll characterisation of the players in this drama are comprehensive and laugh out loud funny. We learn about the brothers: Al, the businessman with a heavy burden to bear; Nick, the narcissistic B-movie actor; and baby brother Leo, who finds religion. We also learn about the hitman, an educated, methodical thinker who is brought into the underworld as a Sicilian orphan and swiftly rises in the ranks. When he is summoned by the boss to take on a singular, life-defining task, as the old cliché goes… it’s an offer he can’t refuse.
As the killer verges on his target, we are treated to a catalog of Italian culture and mafioso sensibility, and plenty of comic moments involving oafish mob soldiers. But the core mystery here that niggles is just who is this old man relating the tale, and why is he telling it now? Three Little Pigs is an enthralling, tightly plotted book, at once a vibrant suspense novel and a lively essay on fate, destiny, and free will. We hate spoilers as much as you so let’s just say the three brothers, the hitman, and the narrator confront their destinies head-on.
If you are familiar with the author’s wonderful graphic novel Logicomix you might get a sense of where Doxiadis is coming from. This book hovers on the border of metafiction. The vehicle of story-within-a-story delivers with high entertainment value the real tenor of Three Little Pigs, and one which even Italo Calvino would admire, and that is the art of storytelling and the sheer pleasures of reading.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars