Review of “Vengeance Is Sacred” by Sandra Nachlinger

If you enjoy novels with actual historical events woven through their storylines, you’ll like VENGEANCE IS SACRED by Peter Healy. With its compelling plot and historical details, this book takes the reader to New York in the early 1900s and portrays the prejudice, intolerable working conditions, and gritty day-to-day existence many immigrants endured, with love, murder, revenge, and a sprinkling of paranormal mixed in.

Forced to flee Italy in 1909 after killing a mafia don’s son, Paolo Calefati leaves his family farm and heads for the United States. Before leaving his homeland, Paolo had taken his grandfather’s place as the “Deva,” a position that enabled the family farm to prosper and that included psychic abilities – connecting with nature, reading auras emanating from other people, and occasionally foretelling future events. In the United States, Paolo’s special abilities serve him well. But as his grandfather once warned, “We are Devas, not saints.” The Deva inside Paolo cannot always be summoned at will, and sometimes the message from the Deva isn’t clear.

Here’s where Peter’s fictional story coincides with actual historical events in New York City. Paolo meets and falls in love with a young woman who works in a sweatshop in the garment district. Through her, he becomes indirectly involved in the fledgling labor movement. Seeking better pay, safer working conditions, and reasonable work schedules, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union formed and went on strike against the Triangle Waist Factory. The abuse of the striking women at the hands of male workers and from the police assigned to control the crowds demonstrates the attitudes and prejudices of the times, especially towards women workers. During the course of the story, this involvement takes Paolo to the scene of the catastrophic March 25, 1911, fire at Triangle and the appalling death toll (146 victims) that occurred. I looked online for more information about this event, curious to see how closely the author adhered to the true story, and was pleased to see that what he wrote was not at all exaggerated. Peter Healy did his research. The reality of what happened was shocking enough without the need for exaggeration. Of course, Paolo’s involvement in the melee was fictional, but many heroic acts did occur during that horrific event in which so many young women perished.

Peter Healy is a gifted storyteller, and he drew me into Paolo’s story immediately. The omniscient point of view he used in telling his tale bothered me at first, as I’m not accustomed to knowing every character’s thoughts and feelings, but after I got used to it, it worked. His scenes showing the fire at Triangle Waist Factory were terrifying and heart-breaking; his action scenes, vivid with detail. And woven throughout the tale was the threat of retribution from the mafia don back in Italy, his reach extending to the United States. VENGEANCE IS SACRED brought me a new appreciation for just how bad working conditions were back in the early 1900s and educated me about the struggles of immigrants, especially women.

Readers who enjoy the mingling of fact and fiction and who are curious about immigrants’ lives in the early 1900s will appreciate Healy’s book. With murder, mystery, romance, revenge, and history, the story is truly epic in scope.

VENGEANCE IS SACRED is available in both paperback and ebook formats:

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