As a first generation Italian American whose mother came from Sicily, I had always wanted to write about an actual Italian American to counteract the myriad stereotypical mafia villains in literature and film. When I lived in New York, I got my chance. I was doing research at the New York Public Library on a completely different subject and accidentally came upon old newspaper articles stored in microfiche about Joe Petrosino. I became fascinated with this true-life American hero.
Before Eliot Ness and Frank Serpico and other famous crime fighters in our history, there was Petrosino, a stocky 5-foot-5-inch, hardnosed cop nicknamed “Bulldog Joe.” In 1895, New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt appointed Petrosino as the first Italian American detective in the NYPD. Over the next 14 years, Petrosino not only fought some of the most vicious criminals and gangs in New York City’s history, but also established himself as a legend along the way by forming the NYPD Bomb Squad and creating the first anti-gang unit known as The Italian Squad (to fight the mafia). The press even dubbed Petrosino “The Italian Sherlock Holmes” for his wits, and one city alderman proclaimed that Petrosino “knocked out more teeth than a dentist” for his violence.
It’s my goal to make the real-life cop Joe Petrosino as famous as the fake criminal Vito Corleone. So I wrote “The Barrel Murder,” which is based on an actual 1903 criminal case assigned to Petrosino. The story traces the NYPD’s investigation of the April 14, 1903, barrel murder, in which a man was found stabbed to death, dismembered and placed on display in a barrel in Little Italy.
Two NYPD outcasts hunt for the killer: Petrosino and Inspector Max Schmittberger (nicknamed “The Broom”). As they work the barrel murder, Petrosino and Schmittberger encounter a lunatic doctor, the Secret Service, vicious Sicilian Mafiosi known as the Morello Gang, and a mysterious code that may unlock the secrets of the killing and a rumored crime syndicate in the City.
NIAF guest blogger Michael Zarocostas is a lawyer and a #1 Bestselling Amazon author who lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife Lianna, their amazing daughter Vesta, and two obese rescued cats Vito and Luca. Michael’s work has been honored by the Kindle Book Review, Suspense Magazine, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship, the Chesterfield Writers Film Project, and the Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition (at the former Maui Writers Conference). Visti his website at www.zarocostas.com