Detective Nic Costa finds himself a stranger in a strange land when he’s sent to infiltrate the mob in a remote part of southern Italy.
Roman police detective Nic Costa has been sent undercover to Italy’s beautiful, remote Calabrian coast to bring in the head of the feared mob, the ‘Ndrangheta, who has offered to turn state witness for reasons of his own.
Hoping to reel in the biggest prize the state police have seen in years, the infamous Butcher of Palermo, Costa and his team are aware the stakes are high. But the constant deception is taking its toll. Out of their depth in a lawless part of Italy where they are the outcasts, not the men in the hills, with their shotguns and rough justice, the detectives find themselves pitched as much against one another as the mob. As the tension rises, it’s clear the operation is not going to plan. Is Nic Costa getting too close to the enemy for comfort – and is there a traitor among them …?
About the Author
David Hewson is a former journalist with The Times, The Sunday Times and the Independent. He is the author of more than twenty-five novels including his Rome-based Nic Costa series which has been published in fifteen languages. He has also written three acclaimed adaptations of the Danish TV series, The Killing. He lives near Canterbury in Kent
Read an Excerpt
In the eighth century, when the Moors ruled much of the Iberian peninsula, there was a priest named Apollinario, a hermit who lived in a cave in the hills above Córdoba. One day the Virgin Mary came to him in a dream and declared that he was destined to be the saviour of his native Spain, forming an army to drive the Muslims from God's beloved Catholic nation.
Flattered as he felt by this divine revelation, Apollinario was reluctant to take on such a task. He was a priest not a soldier, let alone a general. The Moors were everywhere. They were for the most part benign rulers, willing to tolerate those of other faiths, builders of great mosques and libraries, creators of a rich and philanthropic civilisation. How could one unworldly priest fight such a power? And with what?
Seeing his doubts the Virgin reached out and gave him a silver bracelet from her wrist. When Apollinario touched this precious item he knew that her strength, which came directly from God, now lay within him. In this way began the Garduña, Apollinario's sacred army, warriors of the night, fighters determined to rid Europe of Muslim domination.
With the private blessing of the Church, this band of holy villains grew to thousands, all of them sworn to destroy the followers of Allah, not through bloody confrontation on the battlefield, but by stealth and treachery and theft, the stiletto in the dark, the artistry of tricksters, every criminal device available, since the Arabs, being heathen, merited neither mercy nor forgiveness. Over the centuries the Garduña quietly gathered like-minded men to their cause, honing their skills as assassins and vagabonds, murdering, raping, robbing, and pillaging, slaying Muslims, Jews, and any Christians who opposed them, before seeking, and gaining, forgiveness for their sins.
Around 1670 the Inquisition, which had used their talents to such effect, began to turn on its loyal servants, seeing them as a pernicious criminal element that threatened the Vatican's own temporal power. Throughout Spain thousands of loyal members were arrested, many executed, the rest stripped of homes and possessions, thrown into dank prisons, their families left to starve in destitution. Those of Apollinario's children who remained fled into the hills whence they came, hiding their identities, surviving as best they could by virtue of the only talents they knew.
Three of the boldest, Catalan brothers Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso, found themselves trapped in the city of Barcelona, with the king's men standing between them and their mountain home, knowing they were the greatest prize of all since they had in their possession Apollinario's precious silver bracelet given to him by the Virgin. Outflanking the soldiers of the Inquisition in the dead of night, they stole a flimsy fisherman's dory from the harbour and cast themselves upon the mercy of the waves. This was in November of 1673, at the beginning of a vicious winter that straddled the length of the Mediterranean, one which would witness the sea freeze in Siracusa, beggars die of bitter cold in the grand avenues of Alexandria, and snow cover the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for weeks on end.
The brothers fought to control their little boat on the wild waters of the Balearic, hoping to reach Mallorca and safety in Palma, where some of their Garduña brothers had found sanctuary. They were God's thieves, not sailors, and knew nothing of navigation or seafaring. So fierce was the storm that their flimsy boat was tossed about like flotsam for eight long days and nights. These young men grew weak and confused, fearing their lives would be lost on the cold grey ocean, each in turn clutching Mary's holy bracelet to his chest, praying for deliverance.
Perhaps the Virgin was listening, even through the tempest. Starving and close to madness, finally they found themselves beached in Sardinia, near to the city of Cagliari, stranded in a nation which spoke their native Catalan and was, in law at least, still beholden to the kingdom of Castile.
Yet this was not true Spain. They were on the borders of the east, close to a mythical world of pirates and bandits, thieves and ruffians, the Hinder Sea of the Jews, the Mesogeios of Homer, the Mare Nostrum, following in the footsteps of so many others like them, the Vikings and the Normans, the Turks and the Saracens. And the greatest brigands of all, the Romans.
On this foreign soil these three brothers rediscovered themselves as a new Garduña, lying, cheating and stealing now from the wealthy and barbaric Sardinian lords. Their fortunes rose. Their stock improved. Soon they came to see that one island was too small to encompass three such ambitious and talented men. With many tears and embraces, each knowing that separation was the only alternative to division and death, they bade each other farewell and set off to establish their individual fortunes, Mastrosso to Naples, Osso to Sicily, and Carcagnosso to Reggio at the tip of Italy's toe in Calabria.
Here is the history of the south, Garibaldi's Mezzogiorno, written with the blood spilled by these three brothers from Spain and those who came after. In Naples, Mastrosso began the brotherhood that came to be known as the Camorra, the name coming from capo morra, meaning boss of the crooked street game by which the innocent are fleeced of their wages. Not that alley tricks for a pittance were the Camorra's principal interests for long.
In Palermo, Osso took a similar path, his creation coming to bear the name Cosa Nostra or Mafia, the origins of which are challenged by many, and perhaps impossible to pin down. The third brother, Carcagnosso, made the longest, hardest journey of all, to the bare, bleak land at the foot of Aspromonte, the last remaining fragment of ancient Greece in Italy. With his sons he came to form the 'Ndrangheta and here the etymology is clear: the Greek andragathia, meaning 'those who are full of a strong goodness'.
It is natural that they should choose the ancient tongue of the eastern Mediterranean to describe themselves. Calabria is but the modern face of Magna Graecia, 'Greater Greece'. The language of Aristotle and Demosthenes remains more audible in our local dialects than in the demotic Greek heard today on the other side of the Ionian.
Strange, impenetrable, unpronounceable, fearsome. The name of 'the honourable men' seemed made for the sons of Carcagnosso as they seized Calabria, populating its inhospitable mountain ranges, its primitive ports and fishing harbours, bringing a kind of society, of civilisation, to an impoverished and neglected hinterland about which Rome and Florence and Milan cared nothing.
While the Mafia grew greedy and sought fame and riches in America, while the Camorra quarrelled, turned corrupt and untrustworthy, the 'Ndrangheta alone remained true to the Garduña, the sum of their fathers, nothing more, nothing less, their blood running pure from generation to generation.
The crones in the mountains say that somewhere in the bare, cold hills of Aspromonte may be found a grotto containing the silver bracelet of the Virgin Mary, given to the timid monk Apollinario somewhere outside Córdoba in a distant era when Andalusia rang to the cry of the muezzin, not the plainchant of the Holy Church. And by the altar in this hidden lair lies the tomb of his loyal follower, Carcagnosso.
A fairy tale for children? This is possible, so perhaps it has no part in history. What remains undeniable is this: only in Calabria does the spirit of the Garduña live on among 'the honourable men'. They serve still, strong in their silence, asking nothing more than loyalty, obedience and their due, infected, like the Greeks before them, by the spirit of the land, which is wild and free, invincible even to time itself.
At three o'clock on a sweltering late summer afternoon Emmanuel Akindele sat behind the counter of the Zanzibar feeding Jackson the marmoset his first fierce cocktail of the day.
A thin, nervy thirty-year-old, Emmanuel had been rescued off Lampedusa the previous spring. Two thousand dollars that cost him to the Libyan people smugglers, pretty much all his family back home in a Lagos slum possessed. He'd thought himself dead already by the time the Red Cross boat came along and pulled him from a sea so cold it seemed to freeze his bones.
Now, in a kind of life, he spent hour upon hour with this sad and savage little animal, a miserable bundle of bone and fur, barely the size of a cat. Something trapped and helpless, and probably beyond hope. The creature kept thrusting a skinny arm through the bars of its rusty metal cage, holding out a grubby shot glass. A simian alcoholic and Emmanuel couldn't think of anything else but to dull its senses in place of his own.
He'd inherited Jackson when the gang boss put him into the Zanzibar nine months earlier, after he'd earned what the mob men called promotion from pushing cheap counterfeit bags to the tourists on the beach at Locri. The creature was part of the furniture in the cramped, windowless bar, like the broken Playboy pin table, the cheap paintings of Marilyn Monroe, the satellite TV system with an illegal card to pick up premium sports channels from around the world.
He'd thought about letting the monkey go. About driving out of the grey and sprawling city to one of the bare back roads that led to the desolate hills rising from the coast. There the sparse tracts of scrappy brown vegetation reminded him of the countryside back home. He could see himself taking the cage out of the boot and watching the scrawny broken animal limp off into the dry, barren lower reaches of Aspromonte, the sprawling mountain that rose behind Italy's extended toe like the humped back of a slumbering giant.
Jackson would be a corpse in a few hours, a day at most. Nothing foreign lived long in that bleak wasteland. Some things were dead before they even got there. The gang men who employed him, members of the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, saw the place, with its wildernesses full of snakes and spiders and, some said, wolves too, as their natural home. The worst thing that could happen to a man was to be told he was going for a 'walk in the hills'. You never came back. This was where the mobsters took their victims, where they hid the men and women they kidnapped for money, slicing off a finger or an ear when they needed to raise the temperature a little. Even life in a cage, begging for drinks, getting laughed at by the scum who made up the Zanzibar's clientele, was better than abandonment in that brutal, inhospitable expanse of desolate rock and thorns.
The bar was empty, as it usually was at this time of the afternoon. Customers didn't begin to turn up until five or so and they didn't stay long once their business was done. He had beer and wine and unbranded bottles of spirits that could, at a push, be turned into cheap cocktails. There were even a few panini and packets of cheese and cold meat from the supermarket should a rare soul feel hungry. Not that any of this was of great importance. The Zanzibar was a covert market place and he was its tame host, there to serve and nothing more, certainly not to listen because that could prove very dangerous indeed.
This lost little dive, an airless converted store-room in the back streets of sprawling Reggio, served as an illicit stock exchange where millions of dollars might be exchanged over a couple of glasses of warm Negroni and a shake of the hand. Five minutes away on foot down a narrow industrial road lay the port, a place where boats large and small, legal and nefarious, came and went through the Strait of Messina, past Sicily, out of Europe altogether. Some sailed east, to Turkey, the Balkans and beyond, bringing back narcotics and human traffic, women and cheap labour for the black market. Some went south, to Africa, another continent, his own, which was, Emmanuel often reminded himself, nearer to Reggio than Rome. As far as he could see those vessels returned with much the same kind of goods too, just ones that sometimes bore a different colour and a price tag that was yet more cruel.
On occasion the merchandise found its way into the Zanzibar. He wasn't happy with that idea. The dope, hidden in the storeroom, could put him in prison for years, even though he didn't stand to take a cent of profit from its sale. The men and women he had to hide sometimes ... He'd got used to the look in their faces, the mixture of fear and self-loathing. They, like him, had started on the journey to Europe out of naive hope and desperation, seeking only what any human being ought to regard as his or her right: some way to earn a decent living with a little dignity.
That fantasy ended in the back streets of Reggio when the scales surely fell from their eyes. Watching the bright, sharp spark of fear in the faces of the women was the worst. They never used females to sell fake bags to tourists or run bags of dope out to the chains of pedlars. There was only one reason for them to be here.
He hated the Zanzibar and the tiny, dingy room above it, one entirely without windows, where he was forced to live. When he got back home, not rich but no longer dirt poor, he'd shout the truth out loud. The men who tempted you out of your home, who dangled riches and luxury in front of your eyes as you stood there, stupid, transfixed, on the doorstep of your miserable little shack, these lying bastards were nothing more than the missionaries and hard- faced, white company men of old, waving trinkets with one hand, hiding the vicious tools of enslavement, a gun and a Bible, tight behind their backs with the other.
Europe was no place for men like him.
That message was one he would deliver soon. Emmanuel was both terrified and proud that, over the previous few months, he'd managed to skim some money from the meagre cash passing over the counter of the Zanzibar. Soon he would have enough stashed away to buy a one-way economy ticket back to Lagos. The route would be the long way round, from Catania in Sicily to Bucharest then Addis Ababa, and finally home. He didn't dare countenance the direct flight, through Rome. The men from Aspromonte would be mad as hell because stealing from them was the worst thing a man could do, an automatic death sentence, carried out without a second thought. They had people everywhere in Italy, maybe beyond, not that he liked to think about that possibility. Emmanuel had worked hard to convince himself that once he was on his plane out of Sicily, headed briefly for Romania, he'd be free of them for good, and that was what he wanted most of all.
The marmoset broke the daydream by rattling his shot glass hard across the bars of its cage.
'Stupid little animal,' Emmanuel spat at it. He snatched away the glass and threw in some fresh peanuts instead. The animal screeched furiously and flew at the bars, yellow teeth bared, its tiny, insane eyes glowering at him. 'Eat something. Eat now or I shall take you out to Aspromonte myself. You go play with the wolves there. See who wins.'
It kept on screeching and screeching. The two of them had been here before. The creature would never give up. It had no reason.
He sighed, filled the glass with booze, a cheap gin copy decanted into the real bottle, not that any of his customers were fooled. Then he passed the drink back through the cage, getting his fingers out of the way as quickly as he could. The thing had sharp teeth and claws and liked to use them. He didn't know why he felt sorry for it. Or rather he did, but was reluctant to admit the truth. In the animal's lost and miserable eyes he saw himself. This was self-pity and Emmanuel, a proud and independent man who left Nigeria for no other reason than to win a better life for his family back home, loathed such a trait in anyone, most of all himself.
Yet the marmoset amused his customers. A little monkey in a cage, a trapped animal that liked to drink and would even puff at a cigarette or something stronger given the chance. This was Europe. Even in the grimmest Lagos dive they never stooped to such games.
The solid front door to the bar opened and two shapes entered. The Nigerian squinted against the brief entry of sunlight trying to make out who it was.
One of them, a big man, very big, was shutting the door carefully and turning round the sign on the front so it read 'Closed'.
Jackson the marmoset was watching them too. He downed his little shot glass and held it out for a refill. The creature's feeble arm was shaking. Emmanuel wondered whether it was the hooch or something else.
'Can I help ...?' he began to say again, then stopped.
They'd turned and this time he remembered what Rocco, the boss from Aspromonte, had said only two hours before.
These were the men he was supposed to look out for. Both middle-aged, both wearing winter jackets, heavy ones, even though it was boiling outside. The big one was hefty and muscular with an ugly, scarred face that might have met a razor some time. The other seemed very different. More a business type, tall, erect, a touch pompous. Cultured, bald, with a very tanned face and a silver goatee, he seemed the kind of man who possessed a natural and unquestionable authority.
Neither of the individuals who had just walked into the Zanzibar gave the impression they smiled much or were likely to any time soon.
The Nigerian's phone was on the shelf behind the counter. Casually, so that they wouldn't notice, he pressed the shortcut key on the handset so that it auto-dialled the number the boss gave him in case of trouble.
He'd only had to use that once before. The call was all it took. No need for an explanation or words at all. It was an alarm in itself, one that identified the source. The gang men had arrived in minutes. Clearing up the mess they left behind – blood and teeth and worse – took a lot longer.
'We need to talk,' said the cultured one with the goatee.
He was staring at Jackson in the cage.
'It's a monkey,' Emmanuel replied without thinking.
The other one grunted something obscene then muttered to his companion. They had unusual accents. Roman maybe. Emmanuel had been in Italy long enough to notice.
The tough-looking guy walked round the bar, picked up the cage quite gently, placed the silent, scared monkey in the back office and closed the door.
'Talk about what?' Emmanuel wondered.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Savage Shore"
Copyright © 2018 David Hewson.
Excerpted by permission of Canongate Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Recent Titles by David Hewson,
Part One: Martinis for a Marmoset,
Part Two: The Wine-Dark Sea,
Part Three: The Fist of Rock,
Part Four: A Time to Kill,
Part Five: The Sicilians,
Part Six: The Grave of Carcagnosso,
Part Seven: A Momentary Music,