The book follows a group of teenage would-be camorristi round Naples as they shoot and extort their way to power... Throughout, Saviano displays a profound knowledge of organised crime in Naples today... Written in a telegraphic, journalistic prose, the novel is not for the squeamish. Scooter-riding hoodlums chase each other like demons through the streets of Naples, while a boss who has turned state’s evidence is a marked man. Research trips for Saviano’s debut novel had to be planned in consultation with the Carabinieri... Although absorbing at times, the novel lacks convincing characterisation and, it must be said, lends itself poorly to translation. Saviano’s finest book remains Gomorrah, turned into an internationally acclaimed film in 2008. That year, Neapolitan gangland bosses set Christmas 2008 as the deadline for Saviano’s elimination. Nothing came of their ultimatum.
WHEN Italian journalist Roberto Saviano faced claims that he plagiarised parts of his previous book, Zero Zero Zero, about the global cocaine trade, he rebranded it a non-fiction novel... Avoiding such wrangles, his new book turns to fiction to follow Nicolas, a schoolboy out to become a gangland kingpin. As he progresses from small-time drug-dealing, his tale unfolds as a kind of Instagram-era Godfather, pungent with trash-talking and squalid detail.
...this debut novel is the latest proof that he’s far from a top-notch writer... The Piranhas is a readable jumble of “j’accuse” and academia, of highfalutin phrase-making and mean-streets action... It all sounds authentic, but the pace is pretty idling — there are paragraphs that continue over two pages. Some of the sentences wouldn’t get past the first day of a creative writing course... The plot isn’t bad... The reason it annoys the reader is that occasionally you get hints of decent writing. You sense, for a page or two, that it’s going to get all Elmore Leonard — fast, precise and funny — but then it suddenly goes saggy again, and you wonder if Saviano has become such an iconic writer that no one dares to edit him any more. The basics of narrative drive are sacrificed so that the reader can be taught a lesson about this or that, and in the end what should be a crime novel seems slow and lumpily didactic.