Surgeon cuts to heart of the mob

Capital professor turns author to pen Mafia story after hearing family secret.

THE henchman from the notorious Black Hand Gang pounded the door of the New York bar and was let in by its co-owner, Italian-born Quirino.

Being after midnight, the bar was shut and the only sound was the clink of glasses being washed and the slosh of the wet mop hitting the floorboards.

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But as the man entered to collect his extortion money, Quirino's brothers Antonio and Giovanni leapt out and the three siblings laid into him with baseball bats.

Though they intended just to give their blackmailer a beating, the brothers went too far and killed the man, who belonged to the ruthless gang of Sicilian origin.

Fearful of retribution, the trio, who had not long fled the poverty of Naples in search of the American dream, fled the Big Apple to seek refuge with family in Britain.

What happened that night in New York remained a family secret, which the men's sister, Anna Mancini, who also fled Italy in search of a fresh start, eventually setting up home in Edinburgh, took to the grave.

But Anna's grandson, eminent cancer surgeon Arnold Maran, stumbled upon the family secret and was inspired to write his new book "Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart" about the Sicilian Mafia, or "the originals" as he calls them.

Now retired, Arnold, 72, who divides his time between homes in Orchard Brae in Edinburgh and Umbria in the centre of Italy, heard the story long after his grandmother's death, from an elderly Italian who knew her.

Arnold only asked his grandmother, or Nonna, about the Mafia once – but he will never forget her reaction.

"She was a bouncy, lovely, cheery person and at that point she changed. She was frightened. When an adult is frightened, a child knows."

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Dubbed "the voice doctor" for his treatment of patients with damaged vocal cords, Professor Maran is an illustrious figure.

He helped set up Scotland's first voice centre at the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s and is said to have treated many famous singers, though he is far too discreet to disclose names.

Raised in austere wartime Scotland, when Mussolini's Italy was the enemy, Arnold learned to play down his Italian roots.

"Like most second and third generation Italians, I was at a gross disadvantage because the two countries were at war and we also had the sectarian thing, so you tried to forget about it."

The first time Arnold visited Italy was in 1951 to see an aunt, and the sheltered teenager was wide-eyed at the stylishly-dressed people, the fancy cars, the Vespas and Lambrettas.

"It was La Dolce Vita," exclaims Arnold, "such a contrast to post-war Britain, yet that's when evil things were beginning to happen and the Mafia was getting into politics."

Many Mafiosos had been exiled or imprisoned by Mussolini during the war, but when Italy was liberated, Arnold says the Americans saw the Italian dictator's enemies as friends and many members were given positions of power.

The Mafia made money through building after the war and that was when the organisation gained a grip on society with its violent brand of racketeering and corruption.

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"The Mafia in Italy is rather like the elephant in the room. Everyone knows about it but no-one talks about it. I have dedicated the book to all my Italian friends who try to live normal lives in an abnormal country. You need contacts to get on. I have so many Italian friends who have hellish lifestyles because they don't know the right people."

The father-of-two spent five years researching his book, during which time he interviewed several ex-mafiosos in Italy.

One of those was a driver who chillingly described the 1992 killing of Giovanni Falcone, a top magistrate who specialised in bringing the Mafia to justice.

The driver took him to see the homes of Sicilian mafiosi and stood in the shadows nervously smoking while Arnold took pictures.

"He just about freaked out when I took photos," recalls Arnold, "In Italy, you don't stay in jail after 75. You go under house arrest, so the godfathers were perhaps at home and perhaps he knew that."

Thanks to films like The Godfather, the popular image of a mafioso is of a man in a suit carrying a gun in a violin case or with a penchant for leaving horses' heads in beds.

Does Marlon Brando's sinister family man image in Coppola's film trilogy bear any relation to the reality of the Mafia in Sicily?

He shakes his head. "Absolutely not. That was the American Mafia. When The Godfather was made there was a lot of resistance and writer Mario Puzo and the producer had a bit of a dicey time.

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"Then when they made it, they had adulation from the Mob, especially because of the connection to old values in Sicily. It was a wonderful way to present them.

"I met some in America who aped them. After the film, members of the Mob acted out The Godfather in real life. In Sicily, the Mafia is much more genteel and subtle."

During Arnold's research, the man who showed him Mafia homes also drove him near to Palermo Airport, scene of the bomb blast that killed judge Falcone.

"The same guy showed me how the dynamite was put under the motorway and Falcone, who put them all in jail, was blown up. The person who did it was a known name and was standing on a hillside with a remote control.

"He told me a lot of stories, but he left out a lot of detail."

An accomplished jazz pianist, who now devotes more time to golf and curling, Arnold is still working as an expert in medical negligence cases.

The Camorra still exists in Naples, but Arnold says the Sicilian Mafia has been virtually destroyed.

Though he plays down the New York bar incident as a "story", Arnold is proud of his grandmother's brothers.

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"Anyone that stands up to any form of bullying I'd admire, though it's maybe not always wise," he adds.

• Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart by AGD Maran is published by Mainstream at 10.99.