Ontreto
A novel of Lipari by Peter Crawley
Book review by Jules Brenner
Matador, released 6/28/15, 345 pp., $10.00
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Roving Welshman Richard "Ric" Ross, steers his barca (a small, single-engine cabin cruiser called the "Mara"), to the small island of Lipari, off Sicily in order to track down his odd family history. Shortly after he putters into a bank of thick fog and ties up his craft to the rusted stanchions of an old pier, he hears rising shouts of two men speaking Italian -- one whose screams pleading for mercy become a muffled strangulation and go silent. Well-intentioned Ric has witnessed the sounds of a killing -- one of which he'll later be accused of being guilty.


Author Crawley proceeds to build a picture of Ric's immersion into Italian culture; its mores and taboos; the intensity of its politics; the code of silence which surrounds devious criminal activity. While the people tend to be open and generous, friendly connections which Ric quickly makes become questionable as secrets are exposed and people's motivations aren't what they appeared or what Ric innocently assumed them to be.

Eventually, when the commisario (chief of police) discovers a Beretta pistol on Ric's boat, with a partial fingerprint that matches his, he becomes a patsy for the aforesaid crime. Or, is he merely a pawn? Ric is realizing that who he can trust in this island community is his biggest challenge.

While I thought the "adventures of Ric" a bit overdone in detail and length, and stylistically insular in dramatic latitude, one of the elements I enjoyed is the expertise with which Crawley renders the deeply emotional Italian temperament amidst a prevalence of hidden agendas and the propensity of some for crime and coverup. Because of his liberal use of words and phrases in Italian, a basic knowledge of the language is all but required.

Ontreto: a fishing device that is an umbrella of vicious hooks that curl out and up, with a flashing, dome light on the top half to attract totano (squid) from Sicilian waters. As the author uses this for the title of his book, we can assume a metaphorical application as well as an important physical one.

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