cover image The Piranhas

The Piranhas

Roberto Saviano, trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-23002-9

Famous for his exposé of the Campagnian mafia (Gomorrah), Saviano now offers a novel to color in the outlines, conjuring one bravura personality and the violence he unleashes to gain a piece of the action in Naples. Fifteen-year-old Nicolas Fiorillo is the ruthless ringleader of his paranza, a gang that travels by motor scooter wresting control of concentric neighborhoods from rival gangs among the Camorra. Saviano chronicles the gang’s ascent, from sidling up to middlemen to taking over their territory. The reader grows ever more appalled by the boys’ increasingly unemotional acts of intimidation and their wanton stirring up of mayhem. Saviano makes clear that the gang’s trajectory—from selling hashish to target practice on immigrants—would be impossible without Nicolas, whose Machiavellian behavior toward his family proves no less callous than it is toward his friends. Nicolas is willing to sacrifice people for power, and the denouement of the story is gut-wrenching proof that, for him, the end justifies the means. But the story suffers from too many unrealized characters, as well as the frustrating inclusion of both Italian and English dialogue next to one another in the text. This valiant novelization of an inhumane world is overcrowded and overlong. (Sept.)