Compulsively readable, tense and illuminating tale…
Set in Italy during the Napoleonic era, Bauer’s riveting debut delivers a powerful blend of political intrigue and suspense. The young and naive Umberto Guardo, the son of a baker, spends his time loitering around in streets with his unsavory group of friends. Life in the small Italian village of Puntarocca is leisurely at the best. But Umberto wants more from life. After the enigmatic Simone Testa comes to live in the village, Umberto and his friends become embroiled with the shrewd radical. When Simone offers Umberto a dangerous task that could alter the course of history, the young lad is too eager to prove himself. With tragedy the only possible outcome, will he have the courage? Bauer deftly combines political intrigue, human drama, and vivid characters to tell a powerful story of friendship, naivety and innocence of youth, manipulation, betrayal, ambition, and regret. He skillfully weaves real-life figures into a satisfying mystery that’s chock-full of engrossing historical tidbits and moving depictions of life on a small Italian village’s streets. The pace is leisurely, the prose elegant, and the atmospheric setting transports the reader to another time. The leisurely style is thoroughly suited to the everyday life of the Napoleonic era people. Bauer combines a twisty plot with convincing political background, and does a nice job of retching up the suspense as the narrative moves forward. Through it all, to the shocking ending, Umberto remains his naive, sensitive, troubled self. Bauer’s insights into the darker side of human nature allow him to skillfully examine his characters’ inner turmoil, fears, insecurities, dreams as well as hopes. The rhythms and layers of the young man’s inner thoughts are aptly melancholic and subtle, and readers will be attuned to Umberto’s attempt to find a clear life goal. While the developing bond between Simone and Umberto and other boys is a little too predictable, Bauer does a nice job of bringing the many plot strands together while exploring the complex character of his protagonists. The tension and nuance of Umberto and his gang’s complicated male friendships add depth and substance to the affecting narrative. The sad, poetic ending is perfect. This is a riveting story of how cunning and manipulation can alter the course of any innocent life. Lovers of well-constructed historicals are in for a treat.
By Thomas Bauer
Pub date June 16, 2021
Price $9.95 (USD) Paperback, $5.89 Kindle edition