Healy’s debut historical novel is a study of the delicate difference between revenge and justice.
This fine novel, framed around New York’s 1911 Triangle Waist Company fire, touches on turn-of-the-century immigration and the nascent labor and women’s rights movements. Paolo Calefati is close to his grandfather, whom he helps on the family’s farm in Italy. Before his grandfather dies, he reveals that Paolo will be the next “Mountain Deva,” possessing “a new awareness of the celestial bodies, Mother Earth, and the continuous cycles of nature and her seasons.” As Deva, Paolo will be able to use his powerful connection with nature to ensure the farm’s success. He will also, at times, be blessed and cursed with prescience, healing powers and a heightened capacity for reading people. After he kills a mobster’s son to save a waitress from rape, he escapes to New York City, where he’s swindled by immigration officials. Later, he saves a fellow Italian named Augie from a murderous fight but refuses Augie’s offer of work with the criminal Black Hand organization; he does, however, accept a welding job. Meanwhile, sweatshop worker Maria Pastore joins a union, and is beaten during a strike with other women from the Triangle factory; Paolo rescues her, and she soon falls in love with him. He later has a dream that leads him to play a heroic role in the Triangle fire but which also reveals him to his enemies. Although the novel’s plot is complex, Healy holds it tightly together with the actions of his well-drawn characters and his genuine talent for creating tension. The prose has a magical feel at times: “Paolo felt the soft warm sunlight upon his face and lost himself in a sea of gentle clouds that floated in an azure sky above the rolling surf.” Healy also portrays accents with only the slightest lilt for his Italian and Jewish characters, although the Irish accent is somewhat overdone (“Well, that’d be right kind. Fret none, I be findin’ out who’s in charge for yerself”). Overall, this aptly titled work is cunningly deliberate, with themes of vengeance reverberating throughout.
A multilayered historical fiction packed with action, suspense, magic and romance—great reading for general readers and literati alike.