Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rizzo by Don Lewis

I confess that I am unable to resist a mystery that seizes me and holds me in its grasp. That is exactly how I felt about Rizzo.

One cannot help but sympathize with Nathan Rizzo. Here he is--a Pittsburgh Police Detective, retired after 32 years, a widower still mourning the loss of his wife, and he decides to accept a position as Police Chief in the small Pennsylvania town of Braden. With minimal crime in this new location, life will be quiet and peaceful, and he should have just enough to do to keep his mind occupied and give this 15 officer police department and rural population the benefit of his experience and leadership.

The apple pie doesn’t always bake to our satisfaction, however.  Sometimes the crust collapses, and that is precisely what seems to be happening to Rizzo. As he navigates the precarious politics present even in a small town setting, five months after his arrival the unthinkable is happening. A series of grizzly murders occurs, and Rizzo is left to untangle the web of secrecy and mystery surrounding them. The challenges that present themselves are magnified by deficient access to the sophisticated, big city resources and support to which Rizzo is accustomed.

This book has everything--the obvious anticipation inherent in digesting the details of multiple whodunits, danger, a hint of romance, organized crime connection, small town characters and cigars. Rizzo relishes his rooftop reflections with a favorite cigar in hand.

Upon reading the final chapter, I returned to the beginning to once again consume clues that I may have overlooked during the initial read. Don Lewis, with his legal background and expertise, excels at crafting an intense legal thriller.

I can’t imagine that anyone would be disappointed in this book. Be aware that there is a smattering of strong language and some graphic descriptions of murder scenes, though neither are as gross as they potentially might have been. For that, I was exceedingly grateful. Some language and visuals are merely typical of a particular setting, subject matter, occupation or lifestyle. And although I personally don’t care for foul language, I am well aware that thugs and criminals wouldn’t ordinarily converse in sugar-coated, angelic phrases. To his tremendous credit, Lewis minimizes its use.

To escape into the world of an intriguing saga, Rizzo is an ideal selection!

 Book Description

Nathan Rizzo, a retired Pittsburgh Homicide Detective, recently widowed, needs something to get his life started again. He finds it in an offer to become the chief of police in a small town in North Central Pennsylvania.

Expecting the job to be essentially stress-free, Rizzo and the small town of Braden are suddenly confronted with a number of brutal murders, all seemingly committed by the same person, yet without clues to connect the victims, and no evidence pointing to a suspect.

The investigation leads Rizzo to the ten year old unsolved murder of a police officer in Twin Falls, Idaho. The key to solving the murders in Braden may have to be found in Idaho.

A number of suspects begin to surface, none but one of whom would seem to have a sufficient motive for the extreme barbarism exercised in the Braden murders, and that person died in an auto accident years earlier.

As Rizzo winds his way through the maze that blocks the identity of the killer, outside entities, including organized crime figures, influence and hinder the investigation.

Working his way through a trail of blood, brutality, and old buried psychological scars, Rizzo’s experience and focus are severely tested, and leave him wondering if he should return to the calmer, less taxing job of a Pittsburgh Homicide Detective.

 Insight from Don Lewis

Detective Nathan Rizzo, retired homicide detective and recently widowed, finds himself and his life, lacking a purpose. Seeing this happening, his old friends and fellow detectives at the Pittsburgh Police Homicide Squad, set him up with a job as the chief of police in a small town in North Central Pennsylvania. Hoping and expecting that the slow pace and lack of serious crime would allow him to keep busy in a stress-free environment, he accepts the job.

As it turns out, the most stressful case he had ever handled, a series of brutal killings, lands in his lap in small town America. How he deals with this situation and brings his experience to bear in a situation where he is basically lacking the support network he had been used to, provides an insight into the life of Chief Rizzo.

As a career prosecutor and criminal trial attorney, I have known many police detectives and have seen them work. I also know several big city cops who took their act to the country and have watched them deal with this strange and totally different environment. Thinking it would make for an interesting story, I have followed the fictional Nathan Rizzo to such a town and have tried to see into how such a man would react in the story line I have created in Rizzo.
Don Lewis

About Author Don Lewis

As a trial lawyer in hundreds of criminal jury trials, including more than 60 murder cases, Mr. Lewis is uniquely qualified to author crime novels like Rizzo. During those years he has had exposure to all types of witnesses and evidence.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Lewis, a former paratrooper and Vietnam Veteran, completed his undergraduate work at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania, and in 1970 received his law degree from Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh.

In 2002 Mr. Lewis retired from the practice of law to devote more time to his writing. In addition to Rizzo, he has authored three other crime novels: Satan’s Boots Don’t Creak, Dark Covenant, and Kalup’s Crossroads.

You may learn more about the author and his books and read sample chapters of each at Mr. Lewis’ website:


Stop by again in two weeks for another post about a "must read."

Happy Thanksgiving 2013 to all,
Mary Anne Benedetto

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never Say Perfect, From Italy with Love & Limoncello and Write Your Pet's Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sciatu Mio by Frank Pennisi

Today's featured book is Sciatu Mio by Frank Pennisi.

Frank Pennisi writes about the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York based on some of his own personal experience. He was born there in 1942 and knows its history from the perspective of a native son. He has first hand awareness about the prejudice realized by Italian immigrants and their families as they tried to assimilate into American society and seek new lives and opportunities.

His book, Sciatu Mio, chronicles the history of multiple generations of a particular Italian family, and it is a saga of control. Who has control over the sulfur mines in Sicily? The New York City piers? The Red Hook streets? The family members and friends? Of who will marry whom? Of who can really be trusted?

It represents a perpetual power struggle, decisions to be made and trying not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which could prove to be dangerous if not fatal. Lies, deceit and conspiracy are rampant. How does a young person survive and prosper in this environment?

Growing up in Southern California, although my family roots are in North Carolina, I didn’t have the slightest idea that a Mafia or organized crime even existed. Okay, perhaps I led a sheltered life, but until I began a married life in the Albany, New York area, this was something to which I had never been exposed. Then the original Godfather movie burst onto the scene in 1972, and I was mesmerized and stunned to learn that there really existed a culture where neighborhoods were clearly defined by nationality, and there actually was a group of families perpetually battling for control of commerce in our modern age! Organized crime? What on earth was that? But I quickly learned that it was not just the figment of an author’s imagination or merely fodder for fiction and the movies. It was real.

What is the current impact of organized crime? Don’t lull yourself into a complacent belief that this was all in the past. Try to conduct business from one borough of New York to another, and even today you will see exactly what happens. It’s all about territorial control.

Which instances in Pennisi’s book are firmly entrenched in his memories and which are purely fictional, one would have to ask him. He tells us, “Growing up in an Italian ghetto in Brooklyn's Red Hook during the 40s and 50s, I was immersed in the culture. I spoke Sicilian before I spoke English. As an only child, my father was 50 years old when I was born, he raised me as a single parent, and I was his pupil. He told stories of The Sicily he left behind and loved, and I was fascinated. Whenever he had to work my grandmother, Santa, was my teacher. She spoke no English, but she was the sole of the earth. I owe my life to these two, and I am who I am because of what they taught me about life. And when I met Orazio and Lina Pennisi twenty years ago at their castle in Sicily, it rekindled all of the passion I grew up with and inspired me to write Sciatu Mio.”

Reading this book made me wonder if there are cycles of evil that plague certain families? Do they have to be from the old country for there to be instances of unconscionable behavior or are many people in our current world simply silent victims of the same despicable crimes? One theme that frequently repeats in the story is “The more the world changes, the more it is the same.”

Although this is a thoroughly fascinating story, be prepared that there is considerable time-hopping and generation-hopping involved, and due to the nature of the tale, there is some mature language, though not nearly as heavily infiltrated as many other books covering the same topics. Remember that the Red Hook neighborhoods were not exactly like Manhattan’s posh upper east side. Wikipedia indicates that “In 1990 Life named Red Hook as one of the ‘worst’ neighborhoods in the United States and as ‘the crack capital of America.’”

Frank Pennisi is obviously sharing a moving story that is close to his heart, and I personally absolutely love Italy and the friendly, passionate Italian people. Perhaps that is why I was attracted to my half-German/half-Italian husband to whom I’ve been married for over thirty-three years and one of the reasons why I found this story so intriguing.

In a nutshell, Sciatu Mio provides detailed and emotional insight into the conflict, prejudice and plight of immigrant Italian families. How far have we evolved remains to be seen.

Amazon Book Description

Based on the life of Frank J. Pennisi’s own father, Giuseppe, Sciatu Mio is the sequel to his debut, The Prince of Sackett Street. Sciatu Mio is a rich and multi-layered romantic novel spanning three generations of the Parisi family, from 1850-1985, featuring Michael from Red Hook, Brooklyn, his father Giuseppe, and his great grandfather, Barone Salvatore from Sicily. Historical events are interwoven with stories of the horrific treatment of the Carusi children for control of the sulfur mines in Floristella and the brutal Mafia wars for control of the New York docks.

Gripping, tense, and at times ironic and humorous, this page turner will keep readers riveted as they wonder if Salvatore, Giuseppe, and Michael find their sciatu mio despite the tangled webs of deceit and treachery. Sciatu mio means “my breath” and is the ultimate expression of love. Not everyone in life is lucky to find their one true love, but if they do they have found their sciatu mio.

More Insight from Frank Pennisi

Growing up, my father would tell me stories about how our family in Sicily came from nobility, and that they lived in castles. That was hard to imagine since my father and I lived in a three-room cold water flat with a bathroom in the hallway. When I was 17 my father died, and I was on my own.

Thirty years later, my wife Carolyn and I found ourselves in beautiful Taormina, Sicily and decided to look into the family roots. I wasn't sure this was such a good idea recalling the characters out of Red Hook. We drove to Piazza Pennisi south of town. The piazza was surrounded by stately palm trees and a magnificent 200 year old Arab Norman castle in the midst of an enchanting tropical giardini. As we drove up to the gates, I couldn't help but think of my father and the stories he once told - maybe they weren't all myths. The name printed under the bell was Orazio Pennisi.

A fragile voice came over the speaker, "Che sai?"

I answered "Sono Francesco Pennisi di Stati Uniti volglio trovare me famiglia."

And so began the incredible story of how I found my family. They introduced themselves as Orazio and Lina Pennisi di Floristella. They were very cordial and asked us to stay for dinner, which we did. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers, but we never established bloodline.

It was Christmas morning in Myrtle Beach and the memories of Sicily were 2 months behind us when the phone rang. It was Orazio and Lina wishing us Buon Natale. He asked us to come back to Sicily and stay with them because the family wanted to get to know us. We arrived in Catania in April, and Etna was covered with snow. Orazio assigned us our room and said, "You can come and go as you wish, here are the keys."

When we were alone, I turned to Carolyn and said, "Can you imagine, from a kid in Red Hook living in a ghetto and now I have the keys to the castle?"

We had a fabulous time meeting family members, eating at family functions and just learning about this wonderful noble family. My heart belonged to Orazio, and at 85 he was the oldest of the family and out of respect everyone called him the Barone. He and Lina never had children, and it seemed they had adopted us. The day we had to leave was a sad day for me. We felt like family even though we never established bloodline.

I kissed Orazio as we got ready to leave and said, "I'm so proud of this family, the history and accomplishment."

Orazio looked at me and said, "You are proud of us? You started with nothing and on your own you have become a Signore and we are proud of you."

As I tried to hold back tears I attempted to give back the keys, but he pushed my hands aside and said, "These keys are yours for when you come back again."

I could no longer hold back the tears. I did not have to search for my family in Sicily, I found Orazio. When we say goodbye, I told him, "ti abbraccio" and we tell him, "ti amo" and he tells us, "I love you very much."

About Author Frank Pennisi

Born in 1942 in Red Hook Brooklyn, Frank J. Pennisi is the only child of Sicilian immigrants. He grew up among the stories of Italians and Sicilians and was touched by their plight to overcome the prejudices against them in America. He graduated Long Island University with a B. A. in History in 1964 and started teaching in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Promoted to Dean after his second year, he drove a taxicab to pay for his Masters in Education. In 1992, his last year he was coordinator of Crisis Intervention for Special Education on Staten Island.

His first book, The Prince of Sackett Street, (1989) was an immigrant story about his father’s life in Sicily and America.
Frank Pennisi

His second book, Nothing Sacred on The Mount, (1992) was about the struggles of six Special Education teachers in New York City dealing with an educational system that was broken.

His third book, Sciatu Mio, (2011) "You are the reason why I breathe" is a romantic, historical novel with stories for control of the sulfur mines in Sicily to the wars between the Irish and Italians for control of the N.Y.C. docks.

Frank and his wife Carolyn live in the small town of Briarcliffe Acres in South Carolina, where he was elected Mayor as a write-in candidate. They love to cook and entertain with friends and family and share their wonderful stories of their travels to Europe and especially Sicily. They take pride in their Italian garden and have absolutely gone head over heels over their new member of their family, a Havanese pup they rescued named BJ.

Visit again in two weeks to see the next selection by a Beach Author Network writer! And don't forget to visit for more information about what is happening in the worlds of our writers. 

Mary Anne Benedetto

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!,  Never Say PerfectFrom Italy with Love & Limoncello, Write Your Pet's Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!.