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Beneath a Scarlet Sky


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Bombs were falling on Milan, Italy, in June 1943. This was especially disheartening to the young, gawky and awkward young man named Pino Lella. Pino is amazingly positive even in the worst circumstances, falls in love with nearly every girl he passes by (especially a young woman named Anna), and dreams of a day when the Americans will come to liberate them and fill their world with jazz.

As the protagonist of the story, Pino is instantly engaging and extremely likable. He cannot understand how “Il Duce” Mussolini can allow Hitler and the Nazi Party to march through Italy and threaten their way of life. Author Mark Sullivan indicates in the Preface to BENEATH A SCARLET SKY that so little was written about the battle for Italy during World War II that the era has come to be known as “The Forgotten Front.” Now, in the personification of Pino Lella, Sullivan gives us an Italian hero to stand up to the Nazi uprising.

Pino is not alone. He has his best friend, Carletto; younger brother, Mimo; and the one guy he looks up to like a matinee idol, the charismatic Tullio. He is loyal to his family and neighbors but realizes it is time to grow up. This will mean that Pino will be taking a stand for the first time in his life. It will also mean that he will have to risk his life for all he believes in and loves.

"Sullivan masterfully ramps up the suspense chapter by chapter to almost unbearable levels.... This is an important story --- one that deserves to be told, read and appreciated --- and Sullivan does an admirable job ensuring that The Forgotten Front finally has a voice."

For his own safety, after their home is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino's parents send Mimo and him to Casa Alpina, a camp in the woods where the boys spent their summers.  Unfortunately, things will not go exactly as planned, and Pino soon finds himself involved directly in the war effort. It is at the camp in Casa Alpina where the owner, Father Re, begins to confide in Pino about what is really going on in Europe. He tells him about the 50 Jews found hiding out in an Italian hotel who were handcuffed, thrown into a lake and machine-gunned to death at the command of the Nazi Gestapo Chief, Colonel Rauff. Under Father Re's guidance, Pino is trained and equipped to begin leading Jews hiding incognito as Italian citizens over the mountains of the Alps into neutral, safe territory in Switzerland. This will not be an easy task, and it also places Pino in an act of treason in the eyes of the Nazis. The sad part is that this is far from the most dangerous thing with which Pino will be involved in this story.

It is not long before Pino is abruptly summoned home. His family fears for his life as he approaches his 18th birthday and draft eligibility. If he was drafted into the Italian Fascist Army, he most certainly would die on the Russian front. Instead, his family insists he enlist with the Nazi army. Pino resists, then comes to understand the reason for this unthinkable act. Thus begins the second part of this intense novel. Sullivan masterfully ramps up the suspense chapter by chapter to almost unbearable levels.

An injured Pino would do the Nazis no good fighting on the front. That's when the most unexpected twist in the book happens. Pino is recruited to be the personal driver for Major General Hans Leyers, Hitler's choice to oversee things in Italy and one of the most fierce and feared commanders in the Nazi army. I have to admit, there were many intense moments that follow in BENEATH A SCARLET SKY that called to mind some of the extremely uncomfortable scenes between the Nazis and the resistance in Quentin Tarantino's film, Inglourious Basterds.

Of course, Pino's family and friends like Tullio are both excited and fearful for him. Working with someone who possesses the knowledge of the entire German army defense like Leyers will make Pino one of the most important spies in the entire Nazi resistance. However, one amazing event happens for Pino, and it invigorates him with a newfound dedication to his mission. He comes back in contact with Anna, 14 months after she stood him up for a date to the movies. Now, Pino wants to survive not only after doing his part to stop the Nazis for his family and the resistance, but also for the future he dreams of with the “love of his life.”

BENEATH A SCARLET SKY is difficult to categorize. It is most definitely historical fiction as Pino Lella was a real Italian hero. In Sullivan's hands, though, this novel takes on something much more. The work he has done co-authoring several books with James Patterson is not lost in this effort as it reads very much like a thriller. This is an important story --- one that deserves to be told, read and appreciated --- and Sullivan does an admirable job ensuring that The Forgotten Front finally has a voice.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 4, 2017

Beneath a Scarlet Sky
by Mark Sullivan

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1503943372
  • ISBN-13: 9781503943377