There is a strange type of romanticism associated with the mafia. I believe we have the rundown of famous blockbusters, such as The Godfather and Goodfellas, to thank for that. But where there’s a good story, books follow, and there is certainly a backlist of engaging and fascinating mafia books that take advantage of the figures and legends.
What do we mean by mafia books?
Before diving in, I want to dig into what “mafia” means. The term itself is derived from the Sicilian word mafiusu that can be roughly translated to “swagger.” I think the root of the romanticism lies right here in the word itself. The Italian mafia (i.e. the original mafia) are always portrayed as sharply dressed, tough men. The stories just seem to write themselves after that.
In terms of definition, a mafia is categorized as an organized crime syndicate that partakes in deeds such as racketeering and gambling. The original Italian mafia, whether they be Sicilian or Italian American, are where the concept derives from. However, the definition of mafia has been broadened to the Russian mafia, the Japanese mafia (i.e. yakuza), et cetera.
In terms of this list, I’ve widened the scope to include books about a diverse array of organized crime syndicates. This also has the added benefit of including authors of color and female authors. I have included books about the Italian mafia; however, I should note that a huge chunk of these were written by white men.
Young Adult Mafia Books
Young adult (YA) books about the mafia are almost always centered on the children of crime bosses. It’s interesting that many of these YA characters struggle with keeping with the legacies of their families while finding themselves (typical for YA fiction).
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
It’s 1926 in Shanghai and there are two gangs engaged in a blood feud. There’s the Scarlet Gang whose heir is Juliette Cain. And then there’s the White Flowers whose heir is Roma Montagov. As you may have surmised from their names, These Violent Delights is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with gangsters and monsters stalking the streets of Shanghai.
Kate Unmasked by Cindy M. Hogan
Seventeen-year-old Kate is adopted and has always wanted to find her biological family. Unfortunately, every lead is a dead end…until she finds a hidden locket. The clue leads her to the New Jersey shore, but thoughts of a happy reunion are squashed when she realizes who her family is.
White Cat by Holly Black
Magic is prohibited in America, driving magic workers underground. Cassel’s family is one of the big five crime families that benefits from the resultant criminal culture. However, times are hard, and his family is falling apart, leaving Cassel to inherit a terrifying family secret.
Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family by Tiffany Schmidt
Penelope is the daughter of one of the three crime families that controls the black market for organs. Despite her privileged life, Penelope is diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder which, in the violence surrounding her family’s line of work, leaves her vulnerable. When she’s caught in a crossfire between a rival family, she learns that she’s tougher than she seems and maybe freedom is possible.
Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
Vince is a normal kid with normal kid problems. It just so happens that his father is the head of a powerful criminal organization. Although this has its perks, it has put a damper in his dating life. So it’s pretty shocking when the girl he falls for happens to be the daughter of an FBI agent hellbent on taking Vince’s father down.
Adult Fiction Mafia Books
Adult novels centered on the mafia are a little more intense than YA novels. While YA novels tend to skirt the criminal elements of the mafia, adult novels (for the most part) seem to embrace characters living in the gray.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
No list of mafia books is really complete without this classic. The Corleones and their legacy of loyalty, blood, and greed have made their way into the zeitgeist. They’re a typical American immigrant family who begin as olive oil sellers but become part of the mafia. When their patriarch is attacked, the Corleones mobilize for their revenge.
The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
You might also recognize the name of this book thanks to its film adaptation. Michael is a religious man whose job is to be an enforcer for an Irish mob family. After his eldest son witnesses one of his hits, the mob’s godfather orders the execution of Michael’s entire family. When only he and his youngest son survive, Michael embarks on a mission of revenge.
Out by Natsuo Kirino
I’ve written about Out in the past, but it’s worth mentioning again. The story follows a young mother who murders her deadbeat husband and recruits her coworkers to help cover up the crime. The ensuing pursuit by the police leads the characters through the gritty underworld of the yakuza.
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
The Thief is an anonymous pickpocket who weaves through the crowds of Tokyo, stealing wallets and trinkets. He’s eventually hired to tie up a rich man and steal the contents of his safe. It’s a simple enough job, but the next day The Thief learns that the man is a powerful politician who was murdered after The Thief left.
The Cartel by Ashley Antoinette and JaQuavis Coleman
The Diamond family controls the port of Miami, but their power is threatened when their leader dies. Carter Diamond left behind his wife, twin sons, and a daughter. But he also had an illegitimate son who comes back to Miami to claim his birthright.
Nonfiction Mafia Books
Organized crime is a fascinating theme to read about in fiction. However, there’s a reason why the fiction is so riveting: the reality is even more interesting. It’s easy to see the mafia as the linchpin to an engaging plot, but the reality is that organized crime is very real, and there are some well-researched books to teach you about it.
Five Families by Selwyn Raab
As the title suggests, you’ll learn about the five families that built the mafia into an empire: Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo, and Lucchese. The book tracks their rise and fall, illustrating the violent leaders and dogged investigators. Interestingly, the book also discusses a possible resurgence of the mafia as federal investigators focus more on homeland security than organized crime.
Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga
A surprisingly true story about a doctor who retells the story of a dying patient. The story begins with the patient walking into the doctor’s clinic, taking off his kimono in the exam room, and revealing his faded body tattoo. The patient is a former Yakuza boss who not only provides a gripping life story to the doctor but also offers a window into 20th century Japan.
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
Sicily is an ancient land that has seduced conquerors and travelers alike. But at the heart of this beautiful island is a vast network of crime powered by the La Cosa Nostra, or the Mafia. The author, Peter Robb, is a writer who lived in Italy for 14 years and set out to discover the roots of the Mafia and its place in contemporary Italy.
Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family by by Joaquín “Jack” García and Michael Levin
It’s impossible to open a conversation about the mafia without including the FBI and its undercover agents. This book follows the true story of an undercover FBI agent who undertook a years-long operation to infiltrate the Gambino crime family.
Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter by Shōko Tendō
This memoir tells the story of Shoko Tendo, the daughter of a yakuza crime boss. Tendo lived a life of privilege and luxury until her father was sent to prison, spiraling her family into debt. After her father was released from prison, he became a violent alcoholic, galvanizing Tendo to rebel.
Romance Mafia Books
If you can ignore the obvious glossing over the crime, the mafia does make for an excellent backdrop for romance. I guess there’s nothing like a little danger to generate that all-important romantic spark.
Friend-Zoned by Belle Aurora
This is humorous story about two people who fall in love. Nikolai isn’t one to fall in love, especially with a friend. Valentina isn’t really interested in a relationship but enjoys making Nikolai smile. The mafia element is muted here, but it’s present in the background. The focus is more on the humorous relationship between Nikolai and Valentina.
The Kiss Thief by L.J. Shen
Francesca is caught in a vicious love triangle between two men. There’s Angelo, the heir to a powerful crime family, and there’s Wolfe, a vicious senator who blackmailed Francesca into marriage. Between these two men, Francesca fully intends to find her true happiness and finally take control over her own life.
The Marriage Contract by Katee Robert
The Marriage Contract is about the arranged marriage between Teague and Callista to facilitate an alliance between their two families. Teague has no intentions of marrying Callista. That is, until he sees the bruises on her neck and decides to protect her at all costs.
Destino: A Mafia Romance by Sienna Mynx
Mira is at the height of her career as the first prominent Black fashion designer taking Italy by storm. Everything is going to plan until a dashing Sicilian businessman strolls into her life. The whirlwind romance leaves Mira wondering what harm a little fling could possibly do.
Deathless & Divided (The Chicago War) by Bethany-Kris
Why not end with yet another arranged marriage trope? Damian is expected to make good on a promise he made to a crime boss. This of course means marrying the man’s daughter. Lily is forced to come home and marry Damian, who is a complete stranger to her. Expecting the worst, she’s surprised to see that Damian is nothing like she thought.