The King Of Italy by Kent Heckenlively

Hello, readers! Today we’ve been given the treat of showing you an excerpt from Kent Heckenlively’s fiction debut, The King Of Italy!


From the picturesque landscapes of Sicily to the vibrant heart of San Francisco — and set against the backdrop of Italy’s most volatile periods — Mr Heckenlively introduces us to a saga of familial honor, historical vendettas and a relentless quest for justice. Through the lives of Vincenzo Nicosia and his nephew Alex, readers embark on a journey that intertwines the personal with the political, revenge with redemption, and individual fates with the destiny of a nation. The King of Italy is a vivid celebration of Italy’s storied past and the power of storytelling.


Read on for a sneak peek at some of the book’s very first pages!


In the fall of 1907, a boy of six accompanied his mother to the court in Taormina on the eastern coast of Sicily. The courthouse was a gray and forbidding building of stone and Roman columns. Yes, the Romans had left their mark, just like the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Vikings, Vandals, Normans, and even the Muslim invaders from North Africa who had once claimed Sicily as part of their caliphate. As the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily was like a ravaged woman, fought over for centuries by east and west, north and south, by those who wanted to stay, and yet never did.

Sicily was officially part of Italy. It had been since 1860 and the arrival of Garibaldi’s Thousand, an expeditionary force of Italian “patriots,” and his agreement with King Victor Emmanuel II, in what became known as the Italian Risorgimento, or “reorganization.” Italy was now a unified country, not just a patchwork of tiny kingdoms as it had been ever since the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. After just a few years, the Sicilians had revolted, their cities bombed by the Italian navy, the island placed under martial law for several years, and thousands of people executed. The Italians were no better than any of the other occupiers who had come to this dry, mostly arid land in the middle of the peaceful Mediterranean Sea over the past several thousand years.

As his mother walked through the marble hallways clutching his hand, the boy looked at the men who moved quickly past him, severe in their black robes and sober uniforms. Much of it was confusing to young Vincenzo Nicosia. He knew only that his father had been taken by the police and was in grave danger.

Vincenzo and his mother were dismissively waved to a seat, treated with the disregard shown to all country people. Gloomy furniture and stark walls rose on all sides. Clerks moved about with an air of superiority. His mother stared at the empty judge’s bench and twisted her rosary beads over her pregnant belly as she recited silent prayers. She was only twenty-four, but the arrest of her husband a month earlier had greatly disturbed her, and she appeared much older. Her normally round face, soft and olive-colored, had become sharp, angular, and pale. Every day since his arrest, she’d trudged down to the village church at first light and spent hours kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, as well as a statue of Santa Lucia, a Sicilian saint, and prayed for a miracle to free her husband.

Like most Sicilians, Vincenzo was well-acquainted with the story of Santa Lucia. Lucia was a young Sicilian woman of the fourth century who consecrated her virginity to God and intended to distribute the generous dowry that would have gone to her husband to the poor. At the time, Christianity was a forbidden religion, and the Romans regularly persecuted members of the faith. When it was discovered she was a Christian and refused to marry, soldiers came to take her away and put her in a brothel. Lucia became so filled with the Holy Spirit that the soldiers could not move her. The soldiers tried to burn her, but the fire would not start. She was tortured and her eyes gouged out, but God restored her vision the next day.

“Do you know why God gave Lucia back her eyes?” his mother asked him one morning while they were praying for his father.

“Because of her strong faith?”

His mother shook her head. “No, Vincenzo. It was a sign from God. So people know that God sees all things. Even those attempted to be hidden from Him.”

Eventually, the soldiers tortured Lucia to death, and as his mother told him, she was welcomed into heaven by a host of heavenly angels and Jesus Himself, who must have wept at her devotion to Him. For the sentencing, Vincenzo’s mother wore a brown dress of coarse wool, washed the night before with water from the town well. Vincenzo thought she smelled clean and fresh. He was dressed in his best Sunday clothes; gray trousers, a white shirt, thin black tie, gray coat, and a cap that he removed when they entered the courtroom. In all things he looked not like a child, but a small, serious man.

“Are they going to let papa go?” Vincenzo asked.

“Hush now cara.” She touched his hand. “We want them to think well of us. Let them see papa has good people waiting at home for him. He did a bad thing, but there must be mercy. Perhaps papa will just be away for a few months.”

Vincenzo’s mother returned to twisting her rosary beads and murmuring quiet prayers. He looked at the large, imposing judge’s chair. It was made of dark wood with a high back and appeared to be the type of throne God might decide to seat Himself upon if He came to Earth.

“Silence!” the bailiff called out from the front of the room. He announced the entrance of the judge, who quickly appeared in his long black robe. Trailing behind him was a guard escorting Vincenzo’s father in chains.

“Papa!” Vincenzo shouted. He was thinner than two months ago and hung his head in shame. His father did not look up. The judge took his seat on the bench. Sternly he peered through thick glasses at a slip of paper in front of him. Vincenzo’s father was led forward. “Guiseppe Nicosia,” the judge began, “the facts in this case are clear. On September 28 you entered the jewelry store of the victim, Fabrizio Bufalino, and asked to buy a small woman’s ring, which you would pay for with your labor. Signor Bufalino did not agree. On that same night you broke into his store and stole the ring. Not content with mere thievery, you entered Signor Bufalino’s room located above the store and beat him severely. Do you have anything to say for yourself? Do you have anything to say before I pronounce sentence?”

Vincenzo’s father raised his head and narrowed his eyes at the judge. “Bufalino treated me with disrespect.”

“That may very well be,” replied the judge, “but it’s no excuse for the injuries you caused. If you had stolen to feed a starving family, this court would look with sympathy upon you. Or if you’d merely taken something by stealth, I would be inclined to be lenient for the sake of your family, represented here today. But as the esteemed Alessandro de Leone, Duke du Taormina, uncle to our dear King, is so fond of saying, we cannot allow this type of lawlessness to go unpunished.” The judge motioned to a well-dressed man sitting in the front row. Next to him sat a less impressive man, thin and pasty faced.

Vincenzo had seen “the Lion of Sicily” enter the courtroom. Alessandro de Leone stood over six feet tall, had a long mane of black hair streaked with grey, and was in his mid-fifties. In effect the governor of this province of Sicily, the Duke had great influence. He nodded at the judge. “Because of these circumstances,” the judge announced, “I’m afraid I can’t show you any leniency. I sentence you to the maximum term of twenty years.” He brought his gavel down with a noise like a shot.

Vincenzo’s father glared defiantly at the judge, raised his shackled hands, and said, “You don’t sentence me because of what I did. You sentence me because of who I did it to!” He pointed an accusing finger at the pasty-faced man next to the Duke. “If he’d been a nobody like me, you wouldn’t have cared. The mistake I made was to rob the Duke’s relative and teach him a lesson!” Vincenzo’s father moved his gaze to the Duke, who moved uncomfortably in his chair. “That is why you come down so hard on me. I warn you, someday I will have justice!”

The guards grabbed Vincenzo’s father and hustled him away. The judge stood and walked to his chambers as the gallery began to empty. Vincenzo heard a sound like pebbles bouncing on the marble floor. He was startled and looked at his mother. She’d twisted her rosary beads so hard the string had broken. The individual beads were cascading on the floor. Vincenzo dropped to his knees to gather them.

He crawled under the bench to get them all and then held up the beads to his mother. “It can be fixed, Mama.”

She stared vacantly at the empty judge’s chair. “No, it can’t. It can never be fixed.”

“I can do it, Mama,” he vowed. “I’ll make it the way it used to be.” Vincenzo hated the Duke for making his mother break her rosary beads.

One day, Vincenzo would hate the Duke for so much more.


From The King Of Italy by Kent Heckenlively. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission.

The King Of Italy by Kent Heckenlively was published April 16 2024 by Arcade Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including

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