cover image The Last Days of II Duce

The Last Days of II Duce

Domenic Stansberry, Dan Rattiner. Permanent Press (NY), $22 (168pp) ISBN 978-1-57962-004-2

Stansberry (Spoiler; Exit Paradise) asks this slim book to bear a heavy load of noir trappings. Narrator Niccolo Jones tells his story from prison; the tale he relates, about his obsession with his brother's wife, includes a rich benefactor who turns out to be a villain. But Stansberry also enlivens things with an intriguing picture of Italian fascist activity in San Francisco during WWII and details the relationship between Italian and Chinese residents of the city's venerable North Beach. In the present tense, Niccolo (Nick) tells of his life supervising evictions for a slumlord named Jimmy Wong, drinking too much, visiting Chinese hookers and dreaming about Marie Donnatelli, who was once married to his kid brother, Joe. When Joe is shot through the heart in a druggie neighborhood, an attractive Chinese detective named Leanora Chinn thinks Nick knows more about it than he's telling her. Doing some digging on his own, Nick finds connections among Joe, Jimmy Wong, Marie and a wealthy and charismatic old lawyer named Micaeli Romano. There's also a link to the killing of one of Mussolini's top generals in Reno, Nev., in 1953. Stansberry blends his ingredients with a definite panache, even if the book ultimately leaves a reader feeling a bit fuzzy-headed from all the noir styling. (Feb.)