What if, instead of embarking on some spring cleaning, you settled in with a good book? The coming month brings us a mix of debuts and beloved authors that will make you think about life and people in a new way. Build your TBR Lists for March and sweep away your boredom with these brilliant titles.
Loyalty can save a soul—or destroy one.
Franco Fiorvanti is a handsome lemon grower toiling on the estate of a baron. He dreams of owning his own grove, but the rigid class system of Sicily thwarts his ambition. Determined to secure a better future, Franco will do anything to prove his loyalty to the baron. But when the baron asks him to kidnap a little boy named Dante, Franco makes a decision that will change his life—and even the history of Sicily—forever.
Gaetano Catalano is an idealistic young lawyer whose devotion to justice is tantamount to a calling. He’s a member of the Beati Paoli, a real-life secret society of aristocrats who investigate crime in Palermo, a city riddled with graft. Gaetano sets out to find the boy and punish the kidnapper, but his mission leads him to a darker place than he had ever imagined.
Meanwhile, Mafalda Pancari is a new mother rejoicing at the birth of her daughter, Lucia, when disaster strikes. And Alfredo D’Antonio is a reclusive goatherd under constant threat of being discovered as a Jew. How the lives of these unforgettable characters collide makes Loyalty an epic tale of good versus evil, as the story twists and turns to its monumental showdown.
Readers will be transported to the dramatic and ruggedly beautiful island of Sicily, the jewel of the Mediterranean, where lush lemon groves and mouth-watering cuisine contrast with a turbulent history of colonization and corruption. Scottoline brings her decades of thriller writing to historical fiction, creating in Loyalty a singular novel that no reader will be able to put down.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 1, 1955
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1981
Read an Excerpt
It was the final night of the Festival of Saint Rosalia, and hundreds of people lined Via Toledo, cheering, praying, and singing hymns. Priests led the procession, holding tapers that glowed like halos in the darkness. Spectators looked up the street, craning their necks to see the ornate silver reliquary of the patron saint. The carabinieri faced that way, too, their plumed hats in a line, their horses shifting on polished hooves.
Only a bearded man looked away, down the street. Nobody noticed him in the shadows behind the crowd. He kept his eye on the wealthy families privileged to stand on the Quattro Canti, or Four Corners, which was the intersection of Palermo's two most important streets: Via Toledo, extending to the harbor, and Via Maqueda, bisecting the capital.
The procession moved down the street, and the crowd's fervor intensified, anticipating the reliquary. People kissed pictures of the young saint, held roses up to her, and cheered Viva Palermo è viva Santa Rosalia! Among the privileged on the Quattro Canti, the husbands surged forward to see better and the wives remained behind with the children.
The bearded man threaded his way to a little boy standing with his mother at the back of the Quattro Canti. He snuck up behind the boy and waited for the moment to pounce.
The saint's reliquary popped into view, and the crowd erupted in shouting, cheering, and weeping. The boy's mother burst into pious tears, and the bearded man made his move. He pulled a marionette from under his cloak and showed it to the boy. The boy reached for the marionette, and in one cruel motion, the man grabbed the boy and flung his cloak over him. The clamor of the crowd devoured the boy's startled cry. The marionette dropped to the cobblestones.
The man ran away with the boy. The mother looked around for her son. She called him but didn't see him anywhere. She whirled around, beginning to panic, then screamed. It was as if he had been swallowed by the crowd. She would remember this moment for all of her days.
The man jumped onto a bay mare and rode off with the boy. He galloped from the city proper and raced past prickly pear cacti, cypresses, and olive trees on a road illuminated by a crescent moon. In time, he approached a dilapidated building set off by itself, a boxy, broken shadow in the night. It was the Ospizio di Santa Teresa, a madhouse that held lunatics, lepers, and the poor.
The man entered the building's courtyard and halted the mare. He dismounted and threw the crying child over his shoulder, then banged on the door, which was opened by a guard. The kidnapper handed the boy over with a sack of ducats, then left.
The guard pocketed the ducats and took the boy inside the madhouse. The place was dark at this hour, though it was never quiet. The wails, rants, and cries of a hundred lunatics echoed throughout its stone walls. The guard crossed the entrance hall with the boy and entered the kitchen, where the only illumination came from the moon filtered through a dirty window.
"Sit, boy!" The guard dumped the boy onto the wooden table.
"Mamma?" the boy whispered, teary. "Where's Mamma?"
"She doesn't want you anymore." The guard picked up a knife, its sharp blade glinting in the moonlight.
"No!" The boy scrambled backward, terrified the guard would stab him. Instead, the guard used the knife to cut his own finger, drawing blood.
"Look what you did, boy! You cut me!"
"I didn't! Mamma! Papa!"
The guard picked up the boy, left the kitchen, and crossed the entrance hall. He reached the stairs and descended into a gloom that reeked of mice and chamber pots. He lumbered down a hallway lined with the cells of the male lunatics. The walls were of crumbling plaster, and the metal doors dented from within.
"Renzo? Renzo?" one of the lunatics shouted.
"Renzo, I'm hungry!" shouted another.
"Let me out! Please, I beg you!"
The guard reached the end of the hall and stopped at an open door, scattering the rats. He entered a cell that contained only a chamber pot and the frame of a bed with no mattress. A crucifix hung on the wall above an iron chain that ended in a leg manacle. A small window, set oddly high, admitted moonlight through its bars.
The guard tossed the boy onto the floor and picked up the manacle, realizing it was sized for an adult, not a child. He would have to come back with a rope.
"Mamma!" the boy called out, sobbing.
The guard whacked him across the face, knocking him unconscious.
"Mamma!" the lunatics shouted. "Mamma!"
Franco Fiorvanti rose from the table, leaving his twin, Roberto, with his farmhands, Sebastiano and Ezio. It was almost midnight, and the three other men had just returned from the Festival of Saint Rosalia in Palermo. They'd brought home a jug of red wine, crusty peasant bread topped with sesame seeds, golden hunks of Canestrato cheese, roasted red peppers with garlic, and fresh green olives. Deliciously pungent aromas scented the small kitchen.
Roberto poured wine into a coarse glass. "You missed a great time tonight, brother."
"I couldn't leave the property." Franco crossed to the door, which stood open. "Our lemon house is almost full, and bandits would choose a night like this to strike."
"Roberto, your brother works all the time." Sebastiano dealt brightly colored Scopa cards.
Ezio drained his wineglass. "The Fiorvantis were no fun before you, Roberto."
Franco stepped outside, walked away from the farmhouse, and scanned the property with a manager's eye. The latifondo, an agricultural estate, was owned by Baron Zito, but he didn't live here and his villa stood empty and dark. Its lovely façade of gray-and-brown stone was flanked by two wings set sideways, and Palladian windows with potbellied railings faced the giardino, or lemon grove. A curved portico protected a grand entrance, the door painted a dark green like the shutters.
Franco's farmhouse was off to the side, allowing him to see all comings and goings, and behind was the limonaia, or lemon house, where they stored lemons until taken to market. A stone wall surrounded the villa, farmhouse, and outbuildings. Mules and donkeys grazed within, flicking their tails.
Franco's gaze shifted to the giardino. A cool breeze wafted through the lemon trees, rustling their richly green leaves and perfuming the air like a magical elixir. The Conca d'Oro, or golden bowl, was a luxuriant valley of lemon groves around Palermo, and Baron Zito's giardino spanned thirty hectares, or seventy-five acres.
Franco knew every tree. When he had first come here from Bronte, he had tended, pruned, and grafted them, as well as the olive trees surrounding them for protection against the wind. In ten years, he had risen from being a bracciante, a day laborer, to a gabellotto, a manager, and the giardino had become his passion.
"Brother." Roberto appeared at his side. "You seem restless. I know you're thinking about something."
"I'm always thinking about something."
"I'm never thinking about anything," Roberto shot back, and they both chuckled. They were identical twins and shared the same handsome face, with strong features. Most prominent were their eyes, which were the golden-brown of hazelnuts, and they each had a large nose, heavy cheekbones, and full lips. Their hair was thick, dark, and wavy, but Franco visited the barber more than Roberto. They were of average height, but Franco's work kept him fit, whereas Roberto's love for bread left him with a soft belly.
"I'm glad you came." Franco loved having his twin back, feeling incomplete without him.
"I am, too." Roberto grinned. "The city is so big, with so many people! Tonight, I felt like I was standing at the center of the world."
"You were, brother."
"Why did you want me to come here? I know you had a reason."
"Look." Franco gestured to the lemon trees. "Femminello lemons. There's no more lucrative crop. They prevent scurvy, and the British Navy is crazy for them. Europe can't get enough, either. They ship easily and don't rot as fast as oranges. Palermo serves the busiest trade routes, and ships from here sail to England, Africa, Europe, even America, only forty-five days away by clipper, longer by merchant ship. We export tuna, spices, and silk, but lemons are-"
"Is this school?" Roberto wisecracked.
Franco remembered his twin's impatience with details and tempered his approach.
"All you have to know is that Sicily is the biggest exporter of lemons in the world, and Palermo grows the lion's share, here in the Conca d'Oro. We're sitting on a gold mine, and I have a plan for us."
"Okay, I'll pick lemons for you," Roberto said agreeably.
"You'll do more than that here. Look, Baron Zito's giardino sits in the middle of four others." Franco pointed east. "That way is Baron Piccolo's, there's Baron DiGiulio's, and to the north and south are Baron Moravio's and Marquis Silvestri's. They're all managed by gabellotti like me."
"Remember when we were little? Everything grew on the other side of Mount Etna. Pistachios, lemons, oranges, grapes, everything. There was better soil there from the volcano. We lived on the wrong side, and we traveled with Papa to pick. We broke our backs."
"What of it?"
"Here, we're on the better side, to me. The western half of the island, with Palermo and the Conca d'Oro, teems with citrus, not just lemons. Oranges, blood oranges, limes, all kinds of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. You can grow anything here. The Arabs irrigated the valley, and for once, we benefitted from a colonizer." Franco could see Roberto listening. "But on the east side-the Greek side, where we grew up-it's harder, it's drier. The soil isn't as fertile, there's more hardship. Don't you get tired of being on the wrong side? Where there's such struggle?"
Roberto shrugged. "No, I'm content, like Papa was."
"Well, someday I want to own a giardino, not just manage one."
Roberto laughed, but Franco wasn't joking.
"Why not us, the Fiorvanti brothers? Why should we grow for others? Why not grow for ourselves? Noblemen aren't better than us, despite their titles. God loves all men equally." Franco felt himself falling under the spell of his own dream. "Like a woman in love, a giardino offers everything. Beauty. Sustenance. Life."
Roberto's eyes narrowed. "Are you in love?"
"No." Franco kept his secret, unripe for telling.
"Ezio thinks you are. He says you're seeing someone new."
"I'm always seeing someone new."
"He says this one matters. Last week, you smiled."
Roberto chuckled, but Franco wanted to change the subject.
"Roberto, lemons are the future. We can master the future."
"Now you're talking like Mamma. Crazy."
"She wasn't crazy. She just had dreams."
"Crazy dreams." Roberto shrugged. "Okay, I'm in. We'll be the famous Fiorvanti brothers. We'll be rich."
"It's not only for money. It's for dignity. Respect. Equality."
"Have you become a Communist now?"
Franco scoffed. "Politics is a corrupt conspiracy between colonizers and nobility against us. Sicily is still feudal. We're workers in their fields, fodder in their cannons. We're far behind the mainland and Europe in this way. I was reading-"
"I knew it!" Roberto wagged his finger. "This is because Mamma taught you to read. What a mistake!"
Franco let it go. "Roberto, other families have succeeded in business, not only nobility. The Florios aren't noble, but they're ascending the ladder. Baron Zito owns this latifondo, though he can't sell because it's feudal land. But there's talk of changing the law, and if that happens, I think I can convince him to sell me a small parcel."
Roberto cocked his head. "Where would you get the money?"
"Savings, since I left home."
"But why would he sell?"
"He doesn't like the country life at all, and he complains about the taxes."
Roberto smiled, narrowing his eyes. "Are you trying to become a baron?"
"They were born noble. We were born handsome."
Franco didn't laugh. "I want to move up, Roberto."
"You want to be king of the mountain. Remember that game we used to play?"
"Yes, and back then, you wanted the same. So why not now?"
"This is life, not a game. Nobility is like the stars. They belong up there." Roberto waved at the night sky. "We belong down here with the women, the wine, and the cards. Which place is truly heaven?"
Suddenly they turned at the pounding of a horse's hooves, then a man materialized from the darkness, cantering toward them. Franco had been awaiting him. "Roberto, go inside."
"Why? Who's this?"
"Okay." Roberto turned away and walked back to the farmhouse, and the man halted the mare and dismounted, his cloak swirling around him. He breathed heavily, and his face was slaked with sweat, leaving spittle on his beard. The mare was exhausted, her nostrils as round as ducats.
Franco took the mare's reins and wiped foam from her neck. "Well?"
"Franco, it's done. I took him to the madhouse."
"Good." Franco's chest tightened. It was a dirty piece of work, but not as dirty as it could have been, since he hadn't followed orders. "Remember, Claudio, this is our secret. If you're ever asked, you must say you killed the boy."
"And you weren't seen at the festival?"
"I don't think so."
Franco didn't like the answer. "Were you seen or not?"
"As I say, I don't... think so, but I can't guarantee anything. I waited until his mother was distracted, but there were so many people-"
"Look in my eyes. Were you seen? Yes or no?"
"No," Claudio answered, but his eyes betrayed him.
Franco felt stricken. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't risk being discovered or all would be lost. He willed himself to action. Quickly, he withdrew his knife from its sheath and plunged it into Claudio's chest.
Claudio's eyes flew open. He emitted a moan, dropped to his knees, and flopped over onto his side. Franco controlled the revulsion and horror he felt as he wrenched the knife from Claudio's chest. Blood spurted from the wound as the man's heart pumped its last.
"Franco!" Roberto rushed over.
Franco whirled around, shocked. "I thought you were inside-"
"No!" Roberto knelt beside Claudio, whose gaze fixed on the stars. "You killed him!"
"I had to." Franco felt sick to his stomach. He forced himself to think. He wiped his knife clean on the ground.
"How could you do such a thing?" Roberto looked up, distraught. "You stabbed him, unprovoked! Why?"
"It was the only way." Franco returned his knife to its sheath.
"What are you talking about?"
"You don't know how things are here."
"It’s a sin!" Roberto’s eyes filled with tears. "A mortal sin!"
Franco straightened, composing himself. "Roberto, what’s done is done. I’ll take the body, and you take the mare. She needs to be cooled down."
"Franco, this isn’t like you!"
"No, it isn’t like you." Franco picked up Claudio’s heels and began dragging him away.
"So, tell me about this boy," Dottore Vergenti said to Renzo, as they stood in the entrance hall of the madhouse. It was Monday morning, and evidently a child had been relinquished over the weekend, which would necessitate extra paperwork. Vergenti was administrator of the madhouse, addressed as dottore, though he wasn't a medical doctor. He had gotten this job through his relatives in city government. He used to teach Latin, and while he did like Latin, he disliked children.
"He’s about five years old, maybe six. He’s incorrigible. I told you what he did. He stabbed me!" Renzo held up a hand with bloodied gauze. "See for yourself!"
"Madonne." Vergenti wrinkled his nose. "But how? You’re built like an ox. He can’t be very strong, at his age."
"He caught me unawares!"
"What’s his name?"
"His parents didn’t say. They barely stopped their carriage. They relinquished the boy after he tried to kill his little brother with a rock!"
Vergenti recoiled. "How horrible! Why didn’t they summon the authorities?"
"I don’t know, but the madhouse is the more humane solution, isn’t it?"
Vergenti agreed. The madhouse was awful, but the Ucciardone was far worse. At least here, the government paid to feed them.