RUN out to read this exceptional new historical fiction by Scottoline, who steps again outside of her usual legal thrillers, to craft a powerful, evocative novel set in early 1800’s Sicily and the birth of the mafia among the lemon groves.
The novel opens in with a smalltown festival, where 5-year-old Dante gets kidnapped and locked away in a horrible insane asylum. His parents stay silent, wary of involving the police as prior kidnappings for ransom ended in children never being returned. The kidnapping has been set up by Franco, an ambitious lemon grove manager who’s subservient to his wealthy land-owning, Baron boss but stridently ambitious in one day owning his own groves. Franco’s motivation for doing so serves as one of the central mysteries of the book.
In managing the lemon groves, Franco calls upon on his twin brother Roberto and his assorted 19th century bad-ass friends to protect the lemons on route to market: as the marked poverty of Sicily’s population has led to desperate raids by the impoverished. This guns-for-hire protection for the lemons expands to all the other lemon producers, and then to vineyards, laying the foundation for Italy’s infamous mafia. And the stark contrast between the nobility and peasant captures the fomenting unrest of the oppressed.
Powerful subplots involved three isolated Sicilians blend into Scottoline’s compelling storyline. A young local attorney, Gaetano, feels so moved by the boy’s disappearance that he launches into a passionate search for the boy that ends up threatening his own legal career. Gaetano serves as a member of the real life Beati Paoli, a secret society trying to protect their city of Palermo from corruptions. Alfredo, an accomplished cheese maker seeks to hide his identity as one of the last Jew’s on Sicily after all other were driven off the island. Mafalda is a mom on the run, to protect her albino daughter Lucia from being attacked as a harbinger of ill fortune.
Everything collides in plot twists that leave you breathless.
Thanks to Penguin Group Putnam and NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy.