Tag Archives: journalism

The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

That’s what those years were like: we kept spreadsheets of death, weapons, and none of us were really expected to uncover anything. Investigative journalism was a figure of speech in Sicily in the early eighties. It was a place where Hammett’s red harvest really was a bumper crop of blood.”

The Four Corners of Palermo from Giuseppe Di Piazza takes us back to Italy of the turbulent 80s and the Second Mafia War. These four tales are narrated by a crime reporter who looks back over his youth, his life, his loves and his coverage of the organized crime beat in Palermo. Dating many beautiful (and some troubled young women), the narrator describes his past when he’d leap onto his Vespa and charge off to get the story behind the latest slaughter. There’s a heady, powerful authenticity to these tales which isn’t too surprising in this fictionalized account from author/journalist Giuseppe Di Piazza. Many of the names here including Judge Falcone, Paolo Borsellino, Rocco Chinnici, and Mario D’Aleo  were in the headlines during this period in a series of explosively violent acts. These four retrospective stories, are the tales of people who didn’t make the same headlines, but the haunting stories, nonetheless, left lasting, troubling impressions on the narrator. He’s cognizant of his place in history and that he “was living in a novel by Dashiell Hammett, and that this city wasn’t called Palermo, but Poisonville: a place where everyone died. Always.” With death ever present, the enjoyment of life is crucial, and the narrator admits that he loved many women as an antidote to the environment of death. “We were taking high doses of love and sex to conquer our fears.”

4 cornersThe first story Marinello: A Western involves a young man from a mafia family who breaks the rules by falling in love with a girl “from a family where no one has been combinati, made Mafia.” The young man’s relatives take drastic measures to end the relationship. The second story, is the tale of a beautiful French model Sophie, whose heroin addiction brings too much baggage. The narrator, acknowledges that he suffered from “Lancelot Syndrome,” and decades later struggles with his conscience.

In Vito, the narrator receives an anonymous tip that a man named Vito Carriglio has gone missing along with his three young children. According to the newspaper photographer, the brutish Vito is “dark and evil,” an “ugly customer,” who, wearing a bulletproof vest, had been shot in the legs and arms as a “warning” some months before. But why the warning? The story of Vito takes us once again into the hierarchical world of the mafia. The children’s mother is the daughter of a mob boss, and when she turns to the police to help find her children, she’s “breaking one of the most inviolable taboo’s of the cosa nostra.”  The involvement of the police is a subtle message:

An act of contempt towards her husband. If she’d just turned to her family it would have been normal; setting the police after him, after this half a malacarne, is a terrible punishment.

The fourth story, Rosalia, is a dark story of the vicious punishment of a man who crossed the wrong people. The narrator feels a bond with a young girl named Rosalia who asks for his help after her father is murdered. In this city known for bizarre slayings, the discovery of a head on the passenger seat, and the torso in the trunk leaves both the journalist and the police wondering just who the victim,  a petty thief named Giovanni Neglia, had managed to piss off.

Laced with regret and painful memories, these stories explore how one man copes with being confronted with constant death and violence in a world where gruesome death, reprisal murders and vendetta are daily realities. Through these four snapshots of life in Palermo in the 80s, there’s the strong sense of living for the moment–a friend made today could be murdered tomorrow. Our crime reporter is a witness to this violence, and occasionally he becomes emotionally involved–hence these four stories which continue to haunt him decades later. The stories convey the sense that these were remarkable times to be a crime reporter and yet these experiences come with a heavy cost. There’s the excitement of jumping onto a Vespa and racing off to see the discovery of a Mafia armory, knowing members of  theSquadra Catturandi. Mafioso hunters,and there’s the thrill of knowing that you are a witness to history–if only you can survive physically, emotionally, morally….

This deeply philosophical book subtly juxtaposes the reporter’s coping mechanisms, his pursuit of women and drinking, but beneath the surface the tales are replete with explanations of the significance of various staged executions and codes of conduct:

Killing someone from a moving motorcycle means showing respect for your target: it means they’re someone hard to reach and to hit, like the greater amberjack, which is a carnivorous fish. “Incaprettare” a victim, hogtying someone so he chokes himself to death is a very different message: a sign of absolute contempt for a body reduced to a self-strangling mass: even worse, you can arrange for the victim to be found gift-wrapped in this contemptuous manner in a car trunk, left out in the hot sun of a Palermo summer.

Review copy. Translated by Anthony Shugaar


Filed under Di Piazzi Giuseppe, Fiction

Getting Lucky by DC Brod

I’m going to say upfront that I dislike the title of DC Brod’s novel Getting Lucky. There’s an easy-pick-up implication to the novel that doesn’t do the plot or the book’s content justice. I’m also going to say that I read this on a whim–not sure if I’d like it at all. My review copy came from netgalley, and I decided to give it a go after taking a look at the author’s website.

The novel’s protagonist is freelance journalist, forty-something Robyn Guthrie–a single woman who ekes out a marginal living in the town of Fowler, Illinois. Robyn’s life, shared with her dog, is fairly standard and non-glamorous. She lives alone, has a boyfriend, a strange, slightly shady character–ex-jockey, Mick and her mother is safely stashed, albeit reluctantly at Dryden Manor with the other “decrepits.” When the novel begins, Robyn is confronted with two situations:

1) Her mother has decided she wants to buy a house and share it with Robyn

2) Robyn is asked to take over the work left by a reporter killed in a hit-and-run accident.

It’s difficult to say which scenario causes Robyn the most anguish.

The reporter killed in the accident was Clair, a woman whose integrity Robyn admired. Clair worked for the Fowler News and Record and was working on a piece about Cedar Ridge–a new  ‘Green’  housing development at the time of her death. Clair’s boss, Nita asks Robyn to take over the assignment and picking up Clair’s notes, Robyn begins working on completing the story while simultaneously digging into the details surrounding Clair’s death. At the same time, she also juggles her mother’s demands to snap up a house in this buyer’s market.

One of the first things Robyn does is keep a meeting Clair had scheduled with Joseph Kendrick, the man “behind the Cedar Ridge concept.” The meeting takes place at the snotty Douglas Grove Country Club, and it’s here that Robyn begins to sense that there’s more to the Cedar Ridge story. Here’s Robyn’s meeting with Kendrick:

Although middle-age spread had begun to claim his waistline and his face was a bit jowly, Kendrick gave the impression of being the image of health, His smile was warm and energetic, and when he shook my hand I felt as though he meant it. He was one of those shakers who moved in with his other hand and grasped my elbow as he pumped. Nothing unseemly about it, but I’m one of those people who appreciates the concept of personal space.

As luck would have it, Kendrick’s trophy wife, Katherine–now trendily known as “Kat” is an old nemesis from Robyn’s past. Kendrick and Kat, a lawyer who worked for Habitat for Humanity seem to treat Cedar Ridge as an idealistic project rather than a business venture. According to Kendrick, he and his wife consider Cedar Ridge a way of “giving back”

At Cedar Ridge, we’re developing a community of affordable green homes and offering low-interest loans to help people buy those homes.

Sounds good, but then Robyn has this feeling that everything at Cedar Ridge isn’t as perfect as it appears, and she begins to wonder if Clair’s story on the housing project had anything to do with her death.

D C Brod’s storyline is well constructed, but it’s the warmth and humour here that make this an entertaining read. Robyn is a great character–certainly not perfect and sometimes so frank that it’s very easy to identify with some of her opinions and reactions. Here’s Robyn remembering, but trying to hide, how much she disliked Kat:

Isn’t it great the way life loves to bite you on the butt every now and then? How the mere mention of a name evokes all that high school angst, reminding you that we never, ever really get over it. Your face may clear up and you may be earning enough to put a roof over your head, but a high school moment still has the power to flatten you.

I realized he [Kendrick] wasn’t looking at me anymore, and was, in fact, watching me. Compelled to give him something , I just said, “It”ll be fun to see her.” Why I said that and not something like, “Keep that bitch away from me,” I’ll never know.

The novel is also strong on characterisation, and we see Brod’s characters through Robyn’s eyes, with her wit and her pithy comments. Here she is at the Country Club catching a glimpse of a nasty piece of work, a man named Leoni:

As Leoni waxed on, Kendrick, who had begun to perspire, mainly nodded and produced monosyllabic responses. Apparently that was all he had to do, because Leoni seemed capable of long chats with himself. I also noticed he didn’t quite focus on Kendrick, looking past him, toward the patio, as though something there distracted him. Diverted him. Almost like he was admiring something. When I followed his gaze, I couldn’t figure out who was out there. The tables were empty and no one was strolling across the patio. And that’s when I realized what it was–he was flirting with his own reflection. When it hit me, I tried not to laugh. He must have realized he’d been busted when he glanced my way, seeing how hard I was trying not to laugh. He abruptly broke off his fixation and turned towards Kendrick.

The scenes with Leoni’s bratty daughter are hilarious, and for this reader, I admired the way D. D. Brod took ‘the road less traveled’ in her portrayal of a child who’s less-than angelically perfect. Robyn is a plucky heroine: practical independent, a dog lover. She’s the sort of person whose beliefs have defined her lifestyle but in a subtle–not obnoxious way, so we find her working freelance and worrying more about the quality of her work than a splashy career. Meanwhile she juggles her relationship with her mother and her relationship with Mick, and all these mundane concerns make her a very real person. Throughout the course of the story, Robyn moves from Fowler’s elite to Fowler’s underbelly, and naturally she feels more comfortable with a local prostitute than she does with the country club crowd. It’s Robyn’s sense of humour (and probably the author’s) that made this an enjoyable read. Getting Lucky is, apparently, the first installment in a new series. After finishing the book, I strolled over to Amazon and found the second installment, Getting Sassy (again I’m not a fan of this title either) free. You bet I’ll be reading it. Getting Lucky is lighter than my average fare–yes, there are a few bodies but the violence is off the page and some of it is even amusing, but in spite of the fact this novel is not as hard core as my usual picks, I really enjoyed it nonetheless. The experience felt like a short trip in friendlier climes, and if you find yourself enjoying the quotes, I’d hazard a guess that you’d enjoy this book too.


Filed under Brod D C, Fiction