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Tony Manera
Inspired by Machiavelli’s The Prince and Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, the Sicilian-Mafia connected Don Pasquale aspires to achieve fame and fortune with his inside track on a historic five-billion-euro project. His beautiful wife Donna Rosa, driven by suspicion and jealousy, remains skeptical. Complications arise when he is suspected of the assassination of a rival Mafia boss. Warned of possible danger by local police inspector Bellini, his problems mount as the European Investment Bank, concerned about Mafia involvement, freezes the project’s funding. Facing a financial crisis, he seeks help from his corrupt associates in London, unaware that he’s being betrayed by people close to him in Sicily. An unexpected golden opportunity arising from the Byzantine machinations of Italian politics offers Don Pasquale hope that his troubles will dissipate like morning dew under a rising Sicilian sun. Meanwhile, Inspector Bellini engages in a complex investigation involving police forces in Italy, Canada, Scotland Yard, the FBI, and Interpol. The Sicilian resort town of Taormina, with its scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage, provides the primary setting for the plot’s epic clash between corruption and the pursuit of justice.
Novelist and memoirist Manera (The Company of Friends) weaves a memorable Mafia story that centers less on traditional “family” battles than on the modern-day arena of backroom deals. The narrative chiefly follows Don Pasquale, a Sicilian Mafia leader with the veneer of a legitimate businessman, and his boyhood friend Filippo Bellini, now a police inspector who has dedicated his life to taking Pasquale down. An admirer of Machiavelli and Donald Trump, Pasquale harbors ambitions beyond wealth: he dreams of financing a history-making bridge that spans the Strait of Messina–and enshrines his name in history. He’s willing to do anything to achieve this, including having a rival assassinated. The novel follows his wrangling to get this built as Bellini nips at his heels.

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.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B