Peter's third novel is very soon to be published by Troubador Publishing, under the Matador imprint, as a paperback and Ebook.
Set on the beautiful island of Lipari, off the north coast of Sicily, Ontreto is a contemporary crime thriller, told through the eyes of a young man who comes to the island in search of his forebears. It is the stand-alone sequel to Peter's first novel Mazzeri.
Arriving on the unspoiled island of Lipari, Ric Ross carries with him a letter of introduction to Valeria Vaccariello, an aging star of Italian cinema, who lives alone in the House of strangers; a woman known locally as La Strega – the witch. Valeria introduces Ric to Il Velacchino – the sailmaker, who seems to know everyone and everything that goes on in the island. But when a politician is shot dead, Ric's search for his family's history soon grows into a quest to prove his innocence...
Please enjoy the first sample chapter of Ontreto:
Tonio scrambles up the path, reaching out to grab hold of anything that will stop him from slipping back down. As far as Tonio is concerned, he is going nowhere fast.
He mutters constantly, urging himself to greater effort and at the same time scolding himself for making so much noise. There is a checkpoint manned by the Carabinieri on the road not a stone’s throw below him and the last thing he needs is to stumble across some dark-skinned oaf from Perugia relieving himself in the scrub.
They are lazy good-for-nothings, the Carabinieri; thugs and bullies, men who would sell their own mother for a weekend with a whore in Naples. “I bet your sons wear Balillas and sing the Giovinezza,” he whispers, of the black shirts the school children wear and the Fascist hymn they are forced to sing. But, at least their low scruples mean they can be bribed; that is perhaps the only good thing about the filthy bastards. A couple of salpe or a handful of seppie can buy one much valuable information.
Although it is nearly midnight, the moon and the stars reveal the winding path up over the saddle which connects the twin peaks of Monte Rosa to the island.
“One day,” he mutters, “they will dig a tunnel to connect the two bays and when they do, I will not have to make this climb every time I need to get into town.” But then it dawns on him that even if there was a tunnel, the Carabinieri would be guarding that too.
The conversation he has overheard in the café in Canneto has chilled him to the bone, and if he does not make it over to San Giuseppe in time, there will be three less deportati for the islanders to feed.
There is no breeze and Tonio pauses to breathe in the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle and rock carnation. He knows he shouldn’t talk to himself so much, but the sound of his own voice heartens him. And creeping about in the scrub at night is strictly for fools; he knows that too. He is as likely to be shot out of boredom as he is for breaching the curfew.
He slips and reaches out to the branch of a carrub tree, but by mistake grasps the thick fleshy leaf of an agave and as his hand slips down the spiny edge, he cuts his palm.
If the long, hot day grading pumice in the warehouse up at Porticello hasn’t tired him enough, hurrying to find Vincenzo has. And then, when he found him and related the conversation, Vincenzo told him he would have to go at once to the house at the Punta San Giuseppe to warn the others. And San Giuseppe is beyond the città bassa of Lipari. Even if it was daylight and he could run by the most direct route, it would still take him an hour. In the dark, and trying to avoid the patrols, he knows it will take him twice that long. He can’t risk going by the road. He will have to scuttle round the back of the Timpone Croci, steal through the lanes at Diana and pick his way through the narrow alleys that lead round the back of the town through to San Nicola. He shakes his head, knowing it is asking too much not to get stopped at least once.
Again, Tonio scolds himself for his grumbling. The luminosity of the moon makes him easier to spot, but the pitch black shadows created by it make it easier for him to hide. That is how it is; some bad, some not so bad.
He picks his way between the headstones and mausolea in the cemetery, pausing occasionally to apologise for his haste: his sister-in-law, Grazia, a victim of starvation, or so Innocenzio the comunista maintained; Gaetano, his cousin, drowned by the police spies; and Peppino, who Tonio was never certain was a relation, poisoned by the authorities for taking part in the riot. But, Tonio knows full well that Grazia was consumed by her tumour and that Gaetano fell overboard in a storm. And Peppino? Well, he’d mistakenly drunk from a bottle of detergent thinking it was Malvasia; there was nothing sinister about that. But then, Innocenzio likes to blame everything on the Duce, including his facial warts and his terrible breath. After all, he is a disciple of Bongiorno.
“Oh, why did I not go with my brother to that place he called Argentina? I bet the people there don’t have bad breath.”
As he leaves the back of the cemetery he glances over at the forbidding mass of the Castello. The fortified gate beneath the Greek Tower is well-lit and he can see the Carabinieri loitering beneath it. And he knows the other entrance, at the bottom of the broad steps of the Via del Concordato down on the Garibaldi, will be watched too.
Until a few years before, the Carabinieri guarded common criminals, the curse of the island. But the people, Tonio amongst them, stormed their own citadel in protest and as a result the authorities replaced the thieves and murderers with political deportees, with gentlemen. So, while Tonio labours in the pumice quarries, the people of the island do their level best to relieve the former members of the Italian Parliament–men like Volpi from Rome, Beltrimini of Como and Rabezzana of Turin–of as much of their living allowance as they can. With over five hundred of them billeted in basements and hovels in and around the città bassa, below the Castello, they are the reason Tonio cannot take the quickest route to his destination; the deportati are watched day and night.
Something over half an hour later the moon sees Tonio slip past San Nicola. He is surprised by a patrol near the church of Santa Anna and has to hide for a few minutes in the doorway of Bartolo the cobbler.
“I must be making too much noise,” Tonio whispers as the old man unlatches the door and ushers him inside.
“If you are going to play spies, Tonio, you really should wash first. They won’t need to see you coming; they’ll smell you.”
They stand and whisper for a minute or so, but old Bartolo knows better than to ask Tonio what he is doing out at this late hour. Questions only demand answers, and some answers are best not heard.
“And please, stop scratching; they’ll hear you before they smell you. Next time you come to visit, stop by San Calogero and take a bath; your lice are a greater threat to your wellbeing than the Carabinieri. Go on, get out, they have gone now.”
Tonio takes the lane out to Capparo, the southern tip of the island, and scurries off towards the sea just before the land rises up to the small settlement of Capistello.
The house at Punta San Giuseppe is difficult to approach; there is only one narrow lane in and it twists and turns down the steep hillside, running out at the small house which sits up on the blunt promontory, a tall man’s height above the sea.
Vincenzo has told him that a motor launch will come in to the punta at midnight and that the three deportati will be waiting in the water, perching on Homer’s coffin; a rock which rises up from the seabed and crowns just below the surface, not fifty metres from shore. It is a similar escape route to the one taken by Nitti, Lussu and Roselli the year before; except that they met at a house on the Maddalena and were collected from the point near Portinente.
What Vincenzo has also told him is that these other, new men are clearly betrayed, that the Fascist authorities will now be lying in wait for them and that he, Tonio, must warn them. But what Vincenzo has singularly failed to tell Tonio is just how he is supposed to warn them. Is he supposed to swim out to the coffin and casually tap one of them on the shoulder and say, “If you please, gentlemen, we are very sorry to have to tell you that we have a traitor amongst us. Perhaps it would be better for you to postpone your departure?”
He knows only one of the three men trying to escape: Farinelli.
He admires Farinelli. It is known that he is brave, an Ardito from the Great War, and that he started out as a supporter of Annunzio. But, like so many others, when he learned how the poet’s words were nothing but empty promises, he followed Matteotti into the opposition Reformist Party. Then, when the Fascisti assassinated Matteotti, Farinelli was deported, first to Lampedusa and then to Lipari.
“That is how it is if you are political; that is why I have no time for such matters”, Tonio mutters. But, he also knows that Farinelli and Vincenzo’s daughter, Katarina, are close. He has seen them out together at passeggio. And that is why it is only natural that Vincenzo should take such an interest in the man’s welfare. That is not political, is it, eh?
The sea is but a short walk away now and the moon shines so bright, it might as well be the sun. Tonio shudders to think how anyone is supposed to hide themselves in such light. And, as he shudders, he makes out the heads of the three men bobbing just above the water out about where Homer’s coffin would be. They are waiting patiently like buoys waiting for a boat, which, he supposes, is exactly what they are doing.
Tonio creeps down between the small holly oaks and cistus. He is afraid. He hates the silence; it has never been a friend to him. Even at this late hour he would expect to hear a fishing boat setting out for the night or a herring gull shrieking from the cliffs beyond the point. But there is nothing, only silence; not even the glow of a lamp from within the little house.
He works his way as quickly and quietly as he can down to the water’s edge. It is not easy; in places the scrub gives way to bare rock and the slope drops away sheer into the water.
Tonio loses his footing and slips, stumbles and falls down the last of the slope, pitching headlong into the black water. He lands with a thunderous splash.
But the water is, if nothing else, cool and refreshing on his skin. Bah, Vincenzo, he thinks, at least there is some pleasure.
There is little point in his trying to keep his presence quiet any longer. “Signori?” he calls, cupping his hand to his mouth and not really understanding why; in all probability they will have heard his grand entrance over in the Marina Corta. “Signori, you must come back.”
But as he calls, Tonio becomes aware of the noise of a boat engine some way off shore. It is a growling noise, like the noise of the generator at the quarry, only more urgent.
Tonio begins to swim in the direction of the men; his stroke is raw and uncultured. “Signori, gentili, you are betrayed.” he calls again.
The sound of the motor grows and echoes around the gullies of the hill behind him. He is worried that the boat will run him down if it doesn’t slow up soon. It is somewhere close; he is sure of it. Still, though, he cannot see it. He stops and treads water for a moment hoping to catch a glimpse of the boat as it approaches. He can see the heads of the men not far away. “Signori,” he calls once more.
Now, he can just make out the white shimmering bow-wave of the boat, carving through the night towards him. It is a beautiful sight, bright and shiny like the silver paint on the statue of San Bartolo up in the cathedral. The boat is low and long. It slows and halts. The motor dies and a torch is played over the heads of the men. There is much excited talking.
Then all that is dark is light and all that is silence is noise. And where there were three men waiting for a single boat, there is now a great commotion and more boats than Tonio has ever seen, even at the festival of San Bartolo.
The long motor launch lies not thirty metres before him. Hunched figures lean over the rail, reaching down to haul the men from their precarious perch in the sea, and Tonio can see this quite clearly because all are now bathed in the white light of a thousand candles.
A rifle is fired, then a machine gun and then more guns.
The water around the launch boils and jumps, like when fishermen herd tuna towards a net. The figures fall back, some into the boat, others into the water.
A man screams and waves his hands in the manner of a Sicilian puppet.
Another man stands still and raises his arms in surrender, pleading. But, the water continues to boil and the bullets continue to strike. And the man lurches and crumples and falls headfirst into the sea.
One of those in the water attempts to climb into the boat, exposing his broad back to the searchlight. It spots black in several places and the man slumps back down, one of his arms slipping so slowly, ever so slowly, from the rail, as if in one final, desperate plea for help.
And the side of the motor launch is exploding into tiny fragments and splinters, and someone is shouting. And suddenly there is no more shooting because there is no longer anyone left alive to shoot at. The gunfire echoes around the shore and gradually fades away. The silence is interrupted only by a weak, pleading, moaning, like that of a man who knows he is about to close his eyes for the last time.
Tonio has heard this moan before. It is the same moan his father gave out when he fell through the floor of the drying house at Porticello and broke his back across the wheel of the cart below. Even Innocenzio had not been able to blame that terrible misfortune on the authorities.
There is little else to be done. The carnage Tonio has witnessed will live in his memory; that is, if he is to live long enough to possess a memory. He is too late; all his efforts have been in vain. He slips slowly beneath the water, turns himself round and strikes out for the shore, careful not to break the surface with his strokes.
Oh Vincenzo, he thinks as he clambers ashore, if you have killed me, there will be trouble.
Boarding House Reach
Boarding House Reach is a captivating novel about five individual characters who meet one weekend in a guest house. Located on the Norfolk Coast, The Reach offers sanctuary for guests Hacker, Phoebe, Audrey, Philip and the landlady, Stella – all of whom are trying to escape their past. As the strands of their individual stories are woven together, the complexity of the novel is revealed. Each guest will face the reality of their personal lives and, as the hours tick away, confess their sins. In a story which encompasses blackmail, rejection, infidelity and love, the characters of Boarding House Reach must accept that although they have the freedom to run away, they will never escape the brutal reality of their tangled lives.
Boarding House Reach is available at
The Great Beauty: Peter Crawley's article on why he fell in love with Corsica, in this month's issue of N By Norwegian; Norwegian Air Shuttle's award winning magazine. With photos by Anton Renborg.
Mazzeri has been nominated for the American Library in Paris Book of the Year Award 2014
Peter's debut novel Mazzeri is published by Troubador Publishing Ltd, under the Matador imprint, as a paperback and Ebook.
Set in Corsica, Mazzeri is a contemporary novel about this complex Mediterranean island, its people and traditions, all of which have been influenced by the author's own experiences.
Mazzeri is also available at