top of page

Antonella Amoruso, senior deputy of Milan's anti-terrorism police, receives a call to return to her Naples hometown for the funeral of a family member murdered in a Camorra clan feud.

Amoruso is plunged into the dangerous culture of Camorra, Naple's violent criminal syndicate, that thrives on illegal drugs, prostitution, extortion, and murder. Her goal is to rescue her family from Camorra's deadly grip.

Chapter One 

Vesuvius night-2.jpg

On Wednesday, Antonella Amoruso would buy a casket in Napoli. She never expected she would face such a grisly task, but life has ways of putting emotional traumas in our paths. Death. Funeral. Burial. The end of a life.

No one likes to be reminded of their mortality. Funerals are grim reminders that death is a part of life and one day friends and family will attend ours. Antonella hated funerals. She had attended three already this year. And it was only May.

    The previous Saturday, she attended a funeral for an old friend, Cristina, killed in a car crash on the Autostrada A24. Antonella had bumped into Cristina at a café a week before the accident, and they agreed to have dinner that Saturday. Antonella made a reservation at a restaurant and left a voicemail with the time and place. But on Saturday, Antonella went to Cristina’s funeral, not the restaurant.

    In February, she went to the funeral for Arturo, her mentor at Milano’s Questura, who had retired and was living on a farm in Piemonte with his wife of fifty-five years. Arturo was a gentleman, intelligent and patient, tThe kind of person you turned to in times of doubt or loneliness. She would have called Arturo when she got the news about Napoli, but of course, she couldn’t. He was dead.

The third funeral had been for Bianca, a sixteen-year-old who had died of bulimia. She was the daughter of another friend. Bianca’s classmates and friends filled the pews at the church, weeping, hugging each other, and sobbing when the casket was wheeled out of the church. Bianca’s mother told Antonella that her daughter had been obsessed with losing weight, secretly taking laxatives and vomiting after meals.

The last thing Antonella had expected was to attend another funeral. Instead, she’d been focusing on her job as a senior deputy of Milano’s Questura. They were now three days into a special event. From May through October, Milano would be on the world stage at the Expo, an international event held every five years in major cities around the world. Expo 2010 had been held in Shanghai; Dubai would be the host city in 2020.

Expo Milano 2015 was a once-in-a-lifetime event for Italia to showcase two thousand years of history and culture that had produced the Renaissance: the genius of Dante, Petrarch, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci; the cuisines of Napoli, Toscana, Sicilia, Milano, and Roma; the natural beauty of the Cinque Terre, Puglia, Amalfi, and the Alpine lakes—Como, Maggiore, Orta, and Garda.

The opening of Expo on Friday, the first of May, had been marred by riots on the streets of Milano, burning cars, anti-Expo left-wing protestors, and anti-globalist and environmentalist demonstrators in the streets tossing petrol bombs and tear gas at police in full riot gear. Antonella was on a panel the following Monday morning with senior Carabinieri, Polizia di Stato, and Guardia di Finanza officers receiving briefings on the demonstrations and reviewing media coverage of the rioting that erupted after the official opening of the Expo by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Expo pavilion.

Antonella learned that she would be going to Napoli that week while she was attending a high-level police briefing at the Expo Milano 2015 pavilion north of town.

She read a text from her assistant, Monica, when the panel took a fifteen-minute break and immediately called her. “When did she call?” Antonella asked, weaving through the crowd of uniformed and plainclothes police officials moving toward a buffet table for coffee, brioche, biscotti, and fruit.

“At 10:20, just before I texted you,” Monica replied. “She asked if you were in the office. I told her you were at a meeting away from the Questura. She just said to tell you about the funeral and ask if you were coming. She thought you’d want to know.”

“That’s all? Nothing else?”

“No. Do you want the number?”

“Text it to me. I think I have it, but we haven’t talked in a long time. I don’t know if she has my cell phone number. Maybe that’s why she called the Questura. She knows where I work.”

“Oh,” Monica said, slightly surprised. “I see. Will you go?”

“I have to. But it couldn’t have come at a worse time. This is a very hectic week. And Napoli is, well, Napoli. The last place I want to go.”

Monica knew Napoli was Antonella’s hometown but didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to travel there. She had worked for Antonella for three years but knew little of her past or personal life.

Antonella made her way to the table where DIGOS (Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali) agents were talking or texting, working at computers, and sipping caffè. She sat next to Simona De Monti, one of her top agents, who was texting on her mobile. After only two years in the male-dominated DIGOS, De Monti had earned the reputation of a determined and aggressive investigator, suffering head wounds when her DIGOS colleagues had killed three Muslim terrorists at the La Scala Opera House during the season premiere in December 2013.

De Monti looked up from her phone.

“Bad news, Simo,” Antonella said. “I have to leave immediately for Napoli.”

De Monti blinked. “Napoli? Why? What’s in Napoli?”

Antonella looked around at the DIGOS agents who had noticed that something had disturbed their boss.

“A funeral, totally unexpected.” She related Monica’s message to De Monti, leaning toward her ear for privacy. De Monti nodded as she heard the details.

“I’m sorry, dottoressa. Terrible news. It must be a shock for you,” Simona said.

Antonella nodded, noticing that the agents at their table had stopped texting and talking and were staring at her. “Not really, I knew I’d get that call one day.”

“You did? But I thought—”

She cut her off. “You don’t know the whole story, Simo. Only Giorgio does. You overheard us one day talking about the . . . situation. I didn’t go into the gory details, but I will when I return from Napoli.”

Simona looked at her, remembering the morning when she went to Antonella’s office for a meeting. As she was about to enter, she overheard a snippet of conversation between Antonella and Giorgio Lucchini, the capo of DIGOS in Milano.

Antonella had said, “I’m sure he was murdered, dumped someplace. It’s been almost a year.”

“It’s Napoli; you’re probably right,” Lucchini had replied.

Antonella gasped when she saw Simona in the doorway.

Lucchini turned around, saw her, and stood. He cleared his throat and said, “I’ll come back later.” He walked out of the office without greeting Simona.

“I’m sorry, dottoressa,” Simona apologized. “I didn’t see Dottor Lucchini. You asked me to come at eleven.”

“I did; you’re a little early,” she said, glancing at her watch. “Lucchini was passing by. I heard some news I wanted to share with him. Nothing that concerns you or the office.”

“Are you OK?” Simona asked. “You look pale. Are you going to faint?”

“No, no, I’m fine. Just a little bug I got a few days ago.”

De Monti recalled the strange event, embarrassed that she had interrupted superior officers and overheard something neither wanted to talk about. Was that incident, the suspected murder case, related to Amoruso’s need to go to Napoli for a funeral? She wasn’t going to ask.

“I’ll just be gone a few days,” Antonella said. “I’ll come back as soon as I can.” She opened her briefing book to scan the schedule of presentations for the day. Panels on bomb-sniffing dogs, metal detectors at entrances, surveillance inside the Expo, and undercover agents assigned to politically sensitive pavilions—the US, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Russia being the most obvious.

Antonella pointed to the page with the upcoming panel’s presenters. “Simo, can you take my place on the next panel, ‘Undercover Surveillance’?”

“Of course, dottoressa. I’ve been to surveillance briefings at the Questura.”

“The Carabinieri and Polizia di Stato are leading the panel,” said Antonella. “Just be on the platform representing DIGOS and ask a couple of questions. You can handle it.”

“Anything else, dottoressa?”

“Write a memo after the panel, and post it on our secure website.”

“I will. Dottor Lucchini’s in Roma today, isn’t he?”

Antonella nodded. “Yes, today and tomorrow, briefings on the refugee crisis in Sicilia. Two more leaking boats coming from Libya capsized last week; more than four hundred died.” Antonella glanced at her watch. “I’ll text Lucchini that I have to go to Napoli when I’m on the train to Cadorna Station. I don’t want a car to drive me into town this time of day.”

“For sure, it could take more than an hour with all the road construction.”

“Call if anything comes up.”

Antonella left her briefing book on the DIGOS table, picked up her purse, and made her way toward the exit. She stopped by the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza tables to tell the commanders she had to leave because of an emergency and that Ispettrice De Monti would take her place for the rest of the day.

Antonella signed out at the security desk, left her Expo security badge, and hurried toward the tunnels that would take her to the express train back to Cadorna Station. When she reached the Expo metro station, she called Monica.

“Leaving Expo, going to my apartment. Book a flight to Napoli this evening with my personal credit card, returning Friday afternoon.”

The Trenord express train screeched into the Expo station with six new yellow and green cars, part of a fleet manufactured for the Expo. Antonella entered an empty car and took a seat as passengers on the platform, businessmen carrying briefcases and Expo employees returning to Milano, entered other cars.

As the train sped away, Antonella called her husband, Carlo, who was flying from Dubai to Sydney that morning. She got his voicemail and left a message. Carlo wouldn’t hear her message for several hours; his flight to Sydney was at least sixteen hours long.

Her second call was to her sister, Marianna, who was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, completing a teaching course at Harvard on Giotto, Tintoretto, and Raphael. Antonella calculated that it was six hours earlier in Cambridge, around five in the morning. She left a voicemail telling Marianna she would be on an evening plane to Napoli and why.

Next, Antonella texted her boss, Giorgio Lucchini, about the reason for her flight to Napoli that night. Then she left a voicemail for her maid, telling her not to fix dinner and that she would be gone for a few days.

Antonella pondered calling her sister-in-law, Carmela, who had left the message with Monica at the Questura. They had never been close, the distance growing as Carmela’s family had become immersed in the world of the brutal Camorra crime syndicate. Antonella was a distinguished Italian police officer at DIGOS, but her half-brother, Salvatore, was a member of the “honored society” of Camorra.

Antonella took a deep breath and pressed in Carmela’s mobile number. The call went immediately to voicemail—not a surprise. Antonella left a message saying she was flying in that night and would go to their apartment tomorrow.

When Antonella arrived at her apartment in Porta Venezia, she went into her bedroom, dropped her purse on the bed, and opened her closet to finger racks of casual, business, and formal wear. She chose the appropriate wardrobe for the hot and muggy weather in Napoli, layered the clothing in her suitcase, and went into the bathroom to retrieve toiletry and cosmetic bags she kept under the sink for traveling.

Her cell phone rang. Monica.

“Dottoressa, I booked a seat for the 5:45 p.m. Alitalia flight from Linate, arriving at Capodichino at 7:05 p.m.”

“Book me a rental car and a room at the International Hotel.”

“Yes, dottoressa.”

“Please call everyone on my appointment calendar. Reschedule for next week. Tell them an unexpected event came up and I’ll be out of town. No details other than that.”

“Would you like a floral arrangement delivered for the funeral?”

Antonella paused. She would want a floral wreath with her and Carlo’s names at the church. But what kind of arrangement? The traditional, with bouquets of lilies? What message? Too much to think about now. Later.

“No. I’ll arrange it in Napoli.”

After packing, Antonella took a shower, slipped on her bathrobe, went back into her bedroom, and reached for the TV remote. She was rarely at her apartment during the day and never watched TV, but she needed a distraction.

She clicked through Rai 1, Rai 2, Rai Premium, Mediaset, 24-hour news . . . endless commercials, vapid hostesses, newscasters who looked like movie stars reading news off of teleprompters. They weren’t journalists, only stylish readers. A waste of time. She clicked off the TV and tossed the remote on her bed.

Antonella went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She hadn’t had lunch, only a cappuccino before the morning briefing. She grabbed plastic-wrapped asiago cheese, prosciutto slices, and tomatoes, layering them on slices of artisanal bread for a quick lunch.

She returned to her bedroom, feeling more settled now that arrangements had been made. She picked up her phone and called for a taxi to pick her up at 3:45 p.m.

Flight. Hotel. Rental car. Taxi to the airport. Done.

She had rushed that morning to get home and pack, and now she had unexpected time on her hands. Her days were rigidly structured, but today she was home with a couple of hours to kill until the taxi arrived. What to do?

Antonella reached for a stack of books on her nightstand. She occasionally tried to read before going to sleep, never staying awake for more than ten minutes. The last book she had finished was Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, about two young Neapolitan girls growing up in a seedy neighborhood after World War II. Before she started book 2 in Ferrante’s series, she wanted to try another author who also wrote about Napoli. She picked up Neapolitan Chronicles by Anna Maria Ortese, a journalist who wrote short stories and memoirs about Napoli in the 1950s and 1960s. Not happy stories, tales of struggle and sadness for families like hers after the war. She stuffed it into her suitcase.

Antonella had ventured far from Napoli in her personal and professional life. But her hometown, a city influenced by the Greeks, Arabs, Spanish, and French, retained a hold on her childhood memories of growing up in that odd and dangerous historic city. Vesuvio, the legendary volcano located just 9 kilometers east of Napoli, had a strange grip on her imagination as a little girl. When she’d see the two peaks, she imagined they looked like two kittens snuggled under a green rug. Later, she thought of a woman lying on her side, the higher peak her hips, the lower, her shoulders.

When she understood the tectonic threat of Vesuvio, she’d watch columns of smoke rising from the caldera in fascination, fearing that it was about to erupt as it had in 79 AD, burying Pompei and Ercolano in mounds of molten lava and ash and killing thousands. She asked her parents, who were both teachers, about the dangers of living so close to an active volcano. Her childish imagination of kittens and a woman became nightmares until she was a teenager.

Antonella had loved Napoli as a child, it was her hometown filled with friends, neighbors, and family. But as she grew up, she experienced the dark side of her hometown, its depravity and crime. She never understood why people would pickpocket, break into a home, or steal a car or motorcycle. What would they gain from committing a crime? It was wrong. Crime hurt people. Looking back years later, she supposed that belief was why she chose a career with the police, to wage a personal crusade again crime. Even though Antonella was now an adult, Napoli maintained its grip on her emotions and memories. Mezzogiorno and Napoli were in her blood. They were part of her life.

Antonella sat on her bed looking up at a bookshelf with framed black-and-white photos of her family. She got up, walked barefoot to the bookshelf, and picked up a photo: Antonella when she was nine years old wearing a white lace dress, a tiara, and white gloves for her first communion. Her seven-year-old sister, Marianna, stood alongside her, beaming at her older sister. Their father and mother stood proudly behind the girls.

Antonella put the photo down and picked up a second one: two years later, Marianna’s first communion. She was wearing the same white lace dress, tiara, and gloves. Antonella stood next to Marianna, wearing a blue dress and white shoes. Their parents were again behind them. Their father had aged from the first photo, looking older than forty-six, his small mouth pinched like he was in pain, eyes tired and sad. His black hair was mussed, beige shirt wrinkled, tie loose at his neck. Their mother had gained weight, a soft bulge around her waist, arms stretching the sleeves of her black dress, her feet cramped in dusty brown shoes.

A third photo: Antonella was thirteen, Marianna eleven, on holiday with the family at a Capri beach. It was the first family photo with their half-brother, Salvatore, seventeen years old, who visited the family only on holidays and time off school. Salvatore stood apart from their father, slouching, eyes avoiding the camera.

A fourth photo: at a  trattoria in Napoli under the shade of a canopy of grapevines twisting around wooden poles. Salvatore sat at the opposite end of the table, facing his father and stepmother, with his wife, Carmela, on his left, holding their baby, Luisa.

A fifth photo: Salvatore, Carmela, two-year-old Luisa, and baby Diego in front of a church after Diego’s baptism.

A modest shrine to her past. Just five photos of her family. None from her father’s or mother’s funerals. Tonight, she was going back to Napoli for another funeral. But she wouldn’t return with photos for her bookshelf. Antonella had no interest in remembering this family gathering. People she didn’t know or care to know would snap mobile phone photos and post them on Facebook and Instagram. Some at the funeral would be criminals, morbidly capturing Carmela’s family’s grief, posting banal comments: “I was there . . . a family mourning . . . those poor children, losing their father.”

Antonella rarely felt melancholy, an emotion that seemed mawkish and self-indulgent. It was a waste of time and energy. She needed a distraction, something to get her mind off the past and what lie ahead.

In an alcove off the dining room, she sat down at her desktop computer, logged into the secure DIGOS site, and scrolled through emails and reports. A security alert from Torino: Suspected arson at a bus terminal, two injured, possible domestic terrorism linked to demonstrations against TAV, the Torino–Lyon high-speed train under the Alps.

An email from Simona with notes from the Expo briefing. Antonella checked her schedule for the week ahead of meetings coordinating Expo security details. Tomorrow, De Monti and other DIGOS colleagues would be at working sessions with the Polizia di Stato and the Guardia di Finanza at the Questura; the next day, they’d be on to Carabinieri headquarters for more Expo meetings.

At 3 p.m. Lucchini called.

“Ciao, Antonella. Sorry I couldn’t call earlier—morning meetings, lunch presentations, a working dinner tonight. I’m sorry about the funeral in Napoli. A sad time for you and the family. Please accept my condolences.”

“Thank you, Giorgio. We’ve talked about this, we both knew this would happen sometime. I just have to get through the week. I’m packed, leaving for Linate soon. How are your meetings?”

He exhaled a long sigh. She could almost see his face: brow wrinkled, eyes narrowed in frustration. “Long day, watching gruesome videos of refugees on leaking boats, bodies in the water, babies dead in their mothers’ arms. Those poor people are harmless, victims of criminals extorting them to get on unsafe boats, knowing they’ll die. Our navy and coast guard are lucky to save a few if they reach the boats before they sink.”

“Life is cruel, especially if you’re from Africa or the Middle East,” Antonella said.

“How long will you be in Napoli?” he asked, changing the subject.

 “I’ll be back Friday afternoon and go to the office Saturday to catch up. The timing couldn’t be worse . . . riots and burning cars Friday, and who knows what might happen this week. God, I hate to go. I want to stay but—”

“You have to go, Antonella,” Lucchini interrupted. “It’s your family, they need you in Napoli. I’m confident our police forces will be able to handle any problems. We anticipated demonstrators creating chaos, and they were ready. They’ll be prepared this week also. Go to Napoli.”

“All right, I know that. It’s just that—”

“Go. That’s it,” Lucchini emphasized. “I’ll see you Saturday. You’ll only be gone a few days. Other than the funeral and seeing Salvo’s family, what else will you do?”

“A few things. I’ll go to the Pianura police station and see Commissario Belmondo. He can brief me on the details. I’m not looking forward to it, but I need to know.”

“That’s up to you. I know this will all be difficult for you. Will you do anything else?”

“I’ll look up an old friend or two, spend time with my niece and nephew. I haven’t seen them for two years. They’re teenagers now. You know how critical those years are. Teenagers face peer pressures—clothes, friends, social life. But Napoli teenagers are lured into crime. Petty stuff at first, pickpocketing, stealing, telling addicts where they can get drugs. But soon they’re into serious crimes like selling drugs, burglaries, stealing cars, even murder.”

“You know it well, Napoli has the highest number of youth murder convictions in the country,” Lucchini said. “Eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old, and they end up in prison, where they get raped and beaten as soon as the doors slam behind them.”

Antonella shuddered. “The police, churches, and schools have failed. Camorra families have been criminals for generations. Children in those families don’t know any other life. I worry about Luisa and Diego. I don’t hear from them. Their mother and I don’t talk. She doesn’t trust me because I’m a cop.”

“All the more reason for you to be there. Show them there are alternatives to being camorristi. They need you.”

“Yes, they do. But . . . to be completely honest, I’m dreading going. Many of the people I’ll meet will be camorristi. They’ll know I’m a cop.”

“Are you worried?”

She thought for a moment. “Yes, I am, a little. But I have to go.”

“Be careful.”

bottom of page