Manera depicts Pasquale as shrewd but arrogant, a tragic antihero hamstrung by paranoia and jealousy. The story's heart is in the relationship between Pasquale and Bellini, who engage in both a literal and metaphorical chess match (on Pasquale’s gilded chess set) in which Pasquale always seems a step ahead of his old friend–unless he at last makes one mistake too many, and the dogged Bellini can pounce. The other characters are drawn more thinly than this compelling pair, serving as plot devices, with Pasquale's wife Rosa offering a collection of anecdotes and complaints, and the other mob members (as well as Pasquale's financiers) edging toward caricature.
Manera lingers over local details in the early pages, but the leisurely pace lasts only until all the pieces are in place and the stakes are fully established. Then, the indirect conflict between Pasquale and Bellini becomes tense and thrilling, right up until the end. Manera's offbeat plot, narrative swerves, emphasis on local culture (“There’s an old Sicilian proverb. ‘You can force someone to cry, but not to sing.’”) and careful attention to the complex relationship between the two leads delivers a fresh take on an old genre.
Takeaway: A mafia story full of unexpected twists, betrayals, and local details that delivers a welcome change of pace.
Great for fans of: Tod Goldberg’s Gangster Nation, Leonardo Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B