Giovanni Falcone - Telegraph
He used to recall that throughout his early years he was horrified not only by Mafia violence, but by the belief that it was invincible, and by the widely held view that to admit to the Mafia's existence was to echo northern Italians' attacks on Sicily. He came to have an almost religious conviction that the Mafia could be beaten by dedicated and competent investigators.
In the late 1960s Falcone specialised in investigating bankruptcy cases. A senior Palermitan magistrate, Rocco Chinnici, was quick to note the young man's precision, tenacity and dedication. He assigned Falcone an investigation into the bankruptcy of a firm which a former Christian Democrat municipal councillor had bought from the banker Michele Sindona. It was the key to all subsequent developments.
Falcone investigated builders who had profited from Palermo's postwar boom, and local politicians who had demanded kick-back payments for granting licences. He was subjected to threats and blandishments, but ignored both and obtained several convictions.
His inquiries led to investigations of Mafia bosses linked to mobsters in America. When, at the conclusion of the investigation, the chief magistrate Gaetano Costa signed 80 arrest warrants, he signed his own death sentence at the same time - he was killed shortly afterwards.
From 1979 Falcone was a member of Chinnici's select anti-Mafia pool of judges and prosecutors. He joined the group shortly after the assassination of Boris Guiliano, the head of Palermo's police who was on the verge of a major breakthrough in his investigations. It marked the beginning of a new era in Mafia violence - for decades police and politicians had been left alone, but as the Mafia's international heroin conglomerate grew, so too did the ruthlessness of its methods. Falcone learned to live with the thought of death, which, he said, was 'not more important to me than the button of my jacket - I'm a real Sicilian'.
In 1982 Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the carabinieri general who had smashed apart the Red Brigades, was despatched to Palermo to co-ordinate Rome's anti-Mafia policy. But his career as the high-profile prefect of Palermo came to a sudden end only 100 days after taking office, when he was machine-gunned to death in the street.
Falcone became effective head of the anti-Mafia pool after a third death, that of Judge Chinnici who was blown up by a car bomb in July 1983. The authorities in Rome had by now tired of their hands-off approach to the Mafia problem, and gave Falcone an unprecedently free rein to take revenge on the death of Dalla Chiesa.
Falcone - whose investigations had earlier secured the conviction of Vito Ciancimino, the former Christian Democrat mayor of Palermo - built up a brilliant team and it was their work which eventually led to the dramatic 'maxi-trial' of 1986-87.
The hundreds of convictions then secured, mostly for murder or drug trafficking, were made possible by pentiti - Mafiosi-turned-informers.
Some pentiti - notably Tommaso Buscetta, who was later put under a witness protection programme in America - refused to confide in anyone other than Falcone. When Falcone visited Buscetta in Brazil, and persuaded him to spill the beans, Buscetta warned the tireless prosecutor: 'This will make you famous, and bring your death.'
The trial culminated in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi, sent down for a total of 2,665 years in prison, including 19 life sentences. But a series of appeal court acquittals, based on a refusal to recognise the validity of 'supergrass' evidence from ex-mafiosi, meant that by the time Falcone left Palermo last year fewer than 30 of the 342 were still behind bars.
Falcone's enemies were numerous, even within the Palermo judicial offices, and senior magistrates appeared constantly to be subverting the work of his team, most of whom resigned in protest in 1989. Falcone himself was subjected to a campaign of hostile anonymous letters, for which a fellow magistrate has been condemned.
Falcone was killed together with his second wife, Francesca. Robert Fox writes: In the presence of Giovanni Falcone one was always aware that he had no illusions about his fate. Faced with the near certainty of a violent death, he was utterly calm.
On several occasions I visited him in his reinforced concrete office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo. In the outer office young men in leather jackets, designer stubble, and dark glasses lounged in broken chairs, fingering machine-guns on their laps.
These bodyguards seemed hardly distinguishable - in outward appearance at least - from their enemies, the professional killers of the Mafia clans.
Indeed, they were part of the same culture of Sicily. So was he.
Giovanni Falcone was a Sicilian through and through, and that made him so devastating as a scourge of the Mafia. As the fans fought a losing battle against the sultry weight of the Sirocco, he laboured at the notes of his investigations with the patience of eternity.
In Sicily his most important function was Judge of Instruction - the magistrate who would draw up the acts of indictment, the full charge list, for the trial itself.
In the 'maxi-trial' of 1986, he drew up 8,000 pages of indictment for some of the most serious professional criminals known to the world, among them Michele Greco, alleged boss of bosses known as 'the Pope', and the clan from Corleone.
In a previous case, in 1983, he had successfully revealed the transatlantic connections of the Inzerillo, Spatola and Gambino clans. The exposure of the global scale of Mafia activities was one of his principal achievements. He was also one of the first to alert the world to the renewed vigour of the Sicilian Mafia - that, contrary to films such as The Godfather, the Sicilian branches of the families are more powerful and violent than their American cousins.
I met him first at the end of the Inzerillo trial. He was never less than courteous to the foreign press, and agreed to meet British journalists even when his political masters told him not to.
His face was the liveliest of any person I have interviewed. Then he had a silver-streaked beard (later removed), which merely enhanced the pyrotechnic quality of the eyes. His talk would take in the broad sweeps of the culture of the Mediterranean.
'Each investigation reveals a little more of the map of the Mafia,' he explained, and when I asked him if the 'maxi-trial' was really the great leap forward in the fight against the Mafia he replied: 'Only a little jump, and there are always plenty of leaps back. It is Hydra, with many more heads to replace the old you managed to cut off. You can never say you have won.'
But for all his Sicilian fatalism, his commitment to the fight against organised crime was never in doubt, and he was always aware that he had enemies within the political world.
Last year, after being denied promotion in Palermo, Falcone went to Rome to be Director-General of Criminal Investigation at the Justice Ministry, a job he held at his death.
He was tipped to become the new Chief Prosecutor against Organised Crime; but, choosing the moment of Italy's present lack of government, the men of the Mafia clans decided to impose their own brutal and final veto on the appointment.
Italy has no fictional detectives like Maigret or Poirot. Their Sherlock Holmes, is Giuseppe 'Joe' Petrosino, a real crusader against the Black Hand, the Camorra and Mafia in America and Europe, murdered by them earlier this century. In life and in death the Petrosino of our own day is Giovanni Falcone.