Monday 8 May 2023

The Chemist of Catania - Alexander Lucie-Smith

The Chemist of Catania
ISBN 9798389340978

I picked this volume up for a few reasons. First I have followed Father Alexander Lucie-Smith on social media for a few years now. He has three earlier novels, now out of print, under the name David McLaurin. I had only been able to track down one in my price range used, and it was lost during a move. His fiction came highly recommended from another priest who’s nonfiction and opinion I appreciate and respect. And I am thankful to have finally read a volume by Alexander Lucie-Smith. I really had no idea what to expect. I picked it up without reading the description, I grabbed it solely based on the author.

The description of the volume states:

“In the slum of Purgatory, in the city of Catania, Calogero di Rienzi, discovers that his late father is a notorious Mafia bomb maker, known as the Chemist, and resolves that he too will rise in the organisation, against all obstacles. The Chemist of Catania is the story of his ascent to power, and how he ruthlessly deals with all those who stand in his path.”

and includes this praise:

“I review a lot of crime novels, and they very seldom come up to the level of Alexander Lucie-Smith’s riveting Sicilian stories. He paints the landscapes and townscapes of Catania with brightness. The plots are fast, the characters unforgettable. Menace, suspense, lust, love, fear all enliven his narrative. I can see him becoming a real ‘cult’ author, as well as translating with ease to the silver screen.” AN Wilson

The story is darker than I expected and is along the lines of JD Kirk, Ken Bruen, and Alexander Gordon Smith but with the emphasis on the criminals and crimes rather than those aiming to stop them. The story gets very dark, the main character is a sadist who controls a whole section of the town through fear and intimidation. The story focuses around a main character named Calogero is a brute. From the moment he stands up to his father’s beatings he heads further and further along a dark path. The story includes thefts from church’s, drugs, prostitutes, and a peek into the criminal underworld. It also has a confraternity that is really just a front for criminal activity and a method of cleaning the money. The attack and debasement that Calogero allowed to happen to his younger brother was hard to read. And I almost gave up on the story at that point. There are some interesting twists towards the end. And the ending leave it open for the story to continue in a very different light.

In many ways it reminded me of The Rifle, and Other Stories by Tomás Carrasquilla, and edited by ML Clark. In that it presents a Catholicism I have a hard time reconciling with my own lived experience of the faith. The story was well written but often I found it disturbing. I am sure it would be great for those who love crime novels, especially those focused on the mafia, and more so from the criminal point of view. It was worth the read and I would give future novels from Lucie-Smith a try or his earlier works if I can track them down.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Alexander Lucie-Smith:

Narrative Theology and Moral Theology: The Infinite Horizon

Books as David McLaurin:
The Bishop of San Fernando
Mortal Sins
Tropical Darkness

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