Building a Better Mafia

I’m mining all the goodness out of Sean Mactire’s book  Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think in an effort to build a better antagonist. I’m delving into Chapter Eleven today, called Wise Guys and Hitmen. I’ll admit, when I first read that title, I didn’t think I’d find anything interesting, as I don’t usually put mafia or hitmen in my novels. However, others might find something useful in the material, so I’ll share it. Not all of it, mind you. If you’re really interested in everything Mactire has to say, buy his book. It’s worth it.

Right off, Mactire says that organized crime is relatively new, as far as history is concerned. The oldest groups are the Sicilian Mafia and the Chinese Triads, which are less than 150 years old. The Corsican League (French Mafia) are the next oldest. The rest are post-World War II. The Russian Mafia was born of the Cold War.

What they all have in common, despite their youth, is the antisocial personality disorder described in one of my previous posts. Nearly 30 percent of all criminals suffer from this disorder. Mactire says, “Typically, the average mobster, with the exception of the newer, college-educated members, is of lower-than-average intelligence and is characterized by at least four of the following behavior factors evident since the age of fifteen to eighteen:”

1. Problems holding a regular, legal job
2. Constantly and easily provoked into fighting
3. Avoids any form of financial responsibility, spends money like water
4. Inability to plan for future
5. Reckless
6. Fails to accept social norms
7. Chronically deceptive, has total disregard for truth
8. Demonstrates inability to be a responsible parent
9. Unable to maintain marital fidelity
10. Demonstrates total lack of remorse

Mactire also notes that these factors are all learned behavior. (I would like to add the Sin Nature factor into all this, but maybe I’ll save that for a later date.) Young mobsters are motivated by the people around them. They grow up into the mobster types we’re familiar with: narcissistic, amoral, mean. Then Mactire says something that might be controversial, maybe even offensive: “these mobsters exist because the public indirectly condones and supports the activities of organized crime by being voluntary consumers of the illegal goods and services that the mobsters make available. They are businessmen in search of easy money first; they are antisocial personality second… no one is born criminal; criminals evolve… they are a true product of Western social history.”

When I first read that, I felt defensive. It’s MY fault mobsters came into existence? I don’t gamble, or visit prostitutes, or purchase illegal drugs. But after I got over my initial response, I realized that, if there were no customers for these products, the mobsters would move on to other venues. Simplistic, but true.

Mactire offers an interesting overview of the historical background and the structure of organized crime, but I won’t delve into that here. If you’re using the mafia in your novel, you’ll need more research than the five pages offered in the book. The most important parts, in my opinion, were the behavioral factors for a mobster. Plug them into a personality type and you’re well on your way to creating a believable antagonist.

Any comments?

-Sonja
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