No, Naples isn’t Palermo, but Kenyon’s vivid descriptions of the sights and smells of an Italian city near the Mediterranean Sea — dank, crumbling buildings within sight of palatial villas, the wet cobblestones around fish markets; narrow, winding and dark streets that suddenly open on sun-drenched piazzas; and the people who rely more on extended family and ‘other’ connections than any government agency — made it as if I was right back in Italy alongside his protagonist, Joe Kelly.
Joe is a drug addict and petty criminal on the run from some dangerous people and the Chicago Police. Desperate for a fresh start, he flees to Palermo, the ancestral home of his mother. Despite knowing no one and having no official papers, Joe settles in and begins to remake his life in a city where opposites — beauty and ugliness, joy and sorrow, hope and despair — exist side-by-side.
Joe arrives at a troubling time for Palermo as two rival Sicilian mob clans have started a gang war over turf, a conflict that Joe finds himself drawn into. More complications: there is also a girl for Joe to fall for, but she isn’t far removed from the on-going conflict.
Fast-paced and with a few well-placed twists and turns, The Savage Heart of Palermo was an enjoyable read that the unknowing may dismiss as fiction, but there is more than a small bit of truth in the tale Kenyon tells. The author lives in Palermo and has studied the area and its crime clans, and he has a somewhat checkered past per his blog.