A Review by Don Sloan
All Father Steve Trimboli wants is for his Puerto Rican flock of immigrants to be able to worship in peace at the Brooklyn storefront that doubles as Our Lady of Siena Catholic Church.
But it’s 1956 and racial tension is running high in the borough. Suddenly, the door to the storefront is blown off and the entire structure burns to the ground. However, Father Steve isn’t one to take injustice lying down.
This intricately drawn and excellent novel about bigotry, mob activity, and fierce family loyalties tracks Father Steve from the Fifties to the present day, in a sweeping saga you won’t soon forget.
It’s a well-told tale about one man’s struggle to remain true to his vows and his faith amidst the swirling tides of church corruption and a childhood friend’s involvement in organized crime.
That friend, Tony LaMarca, has been set up to serve a prison sentence — about which he must remain mum — and his devoted wife Rosalie must carry on, despite conflicts with her mother about the man she married. Theirs is, like so many mother-daughter relationships, a troubled one.
“Her mother had been there before and done everything better. For every ounce of blood Teresa gave, five ounces flowed back.”
Nevertheless, Rosalie is there for her mother when the older woman tries to end her life in grief over a son who has been executed in prison for taking a policeman’s life.
By chance or fate, Father Steve and Rosalie both wind up at the country house of Al Rossi, a well-groomed syndicate Don responsible for Tony’s incarceration.
Rosalie is newly pregnant — a parting gift from Tony — and Father Steve has been banished by his superiors to the rural setting with a mandate to build a new church. But when Rosalie hears the news that Tony has been murdered in prison, she finds herself briefly in the arms of Father Steve, seeking more than solace.
The young clergyman is stricken by his decidedly un-pastoral reaction to the encounter and retreats to the new church worksite to live in a construction shed. While there, a brick comes through the window — a warning from the locals that his new parish is in peril before it begins.
Months pass and a baby girl — Stephanie — arrives in the world. Rosalie has moved back to Brooklyn, and her mother has died, leaving her the house Rosalie grew up in. Meanwile, Father Steve has had his new flock in the sticks snatched from him by a less-than-benevolent bishop. With new resolve, however, and gritty determination, he heads off to his new assignment in The Tombs — NYC’s urban penitentiary.
So much more happens in this superb novel than can be recounted here. Your eyes will mist and you’ll gasp with surprise as events unfold over the next 50 years. You’ll go with Steve to Vietnam as an Army chaplain, and meet an endearing young soldier named Whizzer, who wants nothing more than to come home with a “chest full of medals.”
You’ll travel with Rosalie to Paris as she gets her fledgling dress design company — in partnership with Steve’s mother, Gloria — off to a successful start with style.
And, you will witness the Catholic Church’s shameful revelations — finally forced into the light after many years — about sexual relations between priests and altar boys. Steve, now a Monsignor in present day, plays a pivotal role in forcing the Church’s hand.
This is, ultimately, a sweeping story of tragedy and treachery, turmoil and, eventually, triumph, artfully woven together in the style of Sidney Sheldon. Its character-driven narrative will draw you deeply into the lives of the principal players and keep you turning pages to see what happens next.
Five stars to accomplished author Vincent Panettiere, who has penned a well-written, meticulously edited masterpiece. This will be a tough act to follow, but we look forward eagerly to his next novel.