In Cristofano’s (The Girl She Used to Be, 2009) latest, an all-American suburban family stumbles upon Mafioso justice in New York City’s Little Italy.
Arthur, Lydia and Melody McCartney only want breakfast. What they find is the bloody aftermath of Don Tony Bovaro settling a score with Jimmy "the Rat." The family flees, but 10-year-old Jonathan, the Don’s son, idly copies their car’s license plate number and naively relays it to the police, who come questioning. The McCartney family enters the Federal Witness Security Program. Meanwhile, an empire is endangered, and its emperor is in peril. The murder case is dismissed on a technicality, but the McCartneys become a target of revenge. Thus begins Edgar Award nominated Cristofano’s psychological thriller; a tale of vengeance and love. Spurred by mob-logic, the job eventually falls to Jonathan, a mission made relatively simple by the mob’s manipulation of a gambling-addicted government computer specialist with the capacity to trace the McCartney’s whereabouts. Initially, Jonathan and his cousin are dispatched to Wisconsin to eliminate the McCartneys, but for reasons he cannot fully understand, Jonathan cannot kill Melody, even as he tries but cannot prevent his cousin’s murder of her parents. He is sent after her again, and again, but instead of killing Melody, he becomes her protector, soon comprehending her innocence and fragility, loneliness and vulnerability. A love grows that he cannot admit. Cristofano gives veracity to crime-family life while creating protagonists as cinematic characters; Melody in her beauty and vulnerability, John in his duality, his propensity for violence contrasted against a passion both redemptive and fraught with hope that he might escape the bloody norms of crime-family life. To suggest the novel is The Godfather rendered by Nicholas Sparks does it no justice, for Cristofano can ratchet up dramatic tension and then send readers off on a tangent, only to once again draw nail-biting scenes.
Unique premise, empathetic characters, believable villains, all beautifully played out as a tale of the limits of love and loyalty.