Saviano (Gomorrah, 2007, etc.) returns to his native Naples to spin a chilling tale of teenage gangsters.
Call it The Godfather with training wheels. Nicolas Fiorillo is the hardworking, hard-thinking 15-year-old head of a motor scooter–borne gang, or “paranza,” a word that, Saviano tells us at the very start, “comes from the sea.” A boat goes to sea at night with bright lights to lure fish to rise, thinking the sun is up, only to be snagged in the net; so it is that the youngsters of the southern Italian projects become “guaglioni,” tough kids on the way to being made men. When a gang boss called Copacabana hangs out a sign, so to speak, looking for fresh blood, Nicolas and company are there: “You go,“ Nicolas thinks, “you answer the call. You have to be strong with the strong.” The errands that the “paranza” runs provide a powerful education in how the underworld works: Drugs are transported and sold, rival gangs beaten, shots fired. Ambitious and ruthless, Nicolas steadily rises in the demimonde, becoming a force in himself, pushing aside obstacles; at times he resembles a young Don Corleone, at others the Alex of A Clockwork Orange, and he makes for a creepy protagonist, as when he takes down a target: “Now Nicolas caught a glimpse of that enormous Adam’s apple, bobbing up and down in surprise, and he wondered just what it would sound like to put a couple of bullets right through the middle of it." Saviano, well-established as a crime journalist, delivers an effective yarn without much of a moral: Bad kids will rise to their own level, and, if given half a chance, the best of them will become even worse than their best teachers. There are a lot of Neapolitan cultural details, perhaps a touch too much for the casual reader, and a few walk-on characters too many, but Saviano’s story careens to a satisfying if sanguinary conclusion.
A well-wrought crime story that could as easily have been a documentary: truthful and sobering.