A Novel. Working Title “A Matter of Honour”
A story of love, crime, betrayal and redemption. Fiction, interwoven with real events and people, “A Matter of Honour” tells the multi-generational story of a Scots-Italian crime family, the Lombards / Lombardis.
The story begins in October 1942 and the eve of the final battle of El Alamein – a turning point in WW2.
Fred Lombard is a Scottish soldier of Italian descent, a Sergeant serving in the Gordon Highlanders. At home, three generations of his immigrant family have been dispersed by internment; his family home and café business have been shattered by anti-Italian sentiment and the Clydebank blitz.
These events, together with his experiences as a prisoner of war after Dunkirk, sharpen a natural antagonism to authority. Resentful, and vocal about who the real enemy is, he is reluctant to accept a battlefield commission. He is ordered to reconnoitre the Italian forward defences before the attack begins.
While doing this he meets Piero Bosco, a decorated paratroop Lieutenant serving with the Royal Italian Army who has also been ordered to reconnoitre the front line.
Lombard is in a ‘foxhole’, entangled in barbed wire, cold and with his foot on a land mine. Bosco extricates Lombard, but with the battle about to start, they are trapped together in no-man’s land. Passing the time they discover that their ancestors came from the same locality in Northern Tuscany: the Garfagnana. They share hard histories. We hear more of the Clydebank blitz that has claimed Lombard’s grandparents, and the disaster of internment which has cost Lombard the lives of his father and uncles. We hear of Bosco’s fractured upbringing; orphaned by an earthquake and ‘sold’ to The Nunziata Military School (Piacenza) by the nuns running the orphanage. By the time the battle starts a bond has been forged. Before returning to his own lines Bosco gives the frozen Lombard his uniform jacket. They exchange weapons to prove to their superiors that they have been in contact with the enemy.
When the first salvo of the battle is fired, Lombard decides to stay in the ‘foxhole’. Separated from his unit in the confusion of battle, Lombard is later gathered up by a patrol of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Wearing a decorated Italian Officer’s jacket, and carrying an Italian weapon, he is suspected of being a deserter, or spy, and is interrogated before convincing them of his identity. By now, many miles behind the Gordon Highlanders, he has no alternative but to stay, and fight, with the LRDG until he can re-join his own battalion.
Many months pass: it is September 1943. The Axis forces have been defeated in North Africa, but most escaped to Sicily and the mainland. By the time Lombard catches up with the regular army the invasion of Italy has begun and the Gordon Highlanders are already fighting in Sicily. Unwell, and recovering from wounds sustained while with the LRDG, Lombard remains in a Tunisian transit camp until October. Though not fully fit, he is sent with others to reinforce Salerno on the Italian mainland instead of, as promised, to his own unit in Sicily. He is briefly involved in a mutiny. Under threat of prison or the firing squad he is compelled to join American-led forces at Salerno.
At the same time, Italy has surrendered. Bosco is taken prisoner and in a twist of fate the unlikely comrades are reunited, tasked to use their local knowledge and language skills to gather intelligence, initially in preparation for the American-led landing at Anzio. Success leads to them being sent south to Foggia, for special training as liaison officers with partisans. Repeatedly parachuted behind the retreating enemy’s lines they make contact with, and become trusted by, partisan groups working with British SAS forces. The Mafia, which has been helping in the invasion in return for ‘favours’ in America, infiltrates allied supply lines and takes advantage of the chaos to develop a thriving black market.
D-Day, June 1944 sees the main focus of the war move to France and Belgium, but in Northern Italy the fighting is still fierce, and allied progress is slow. Partisan groups factionalise, with eyes on the State of Italy after the war. Bosco, realises the danger he is in: he is a former Royal Italian officer, on the run with no papers, he is at risk from the Germans, the Communists and the remaining Fascists. He deserts from his American controllers and affiliates with a group of partisans which, it turns out, have criminal connections. Lombard returns south to his HQ.
Christmas 1944. At the same time as the Battle of the Bulge, in Belgium, Axis forces also attempt one last counter-attack in Italy, along the ‘Gothic Line’ in Tuscany. Bosco and Lombard are, again, under fire together. This time in Sommocolonia, in Northern Tuscany where a third key figure enters the story. Victoria Modrone, a young villager, has been tending the wounded Bosco. Lombard saves Bosco by getting him safely back to his partisans and the debt of honour from North Africa is repaid. Victoria falls in love with Lombard and, by the time they separate, Victoria is pregnant – but by whom? Lombard and Bosco never see, or hear from, each other again.
The war ends. Fred is repatriated and demobbed to a devastated Glasgow where he finds his family still dispersed and their business still in ruins. His smouldering sense of injustice is fanned into flame. Influenced by his military experiences, he begins to rebuild his family’s fortunes supported by black market trading and low-level crime. Victoria Modrone follows him to Scotland bringing the child, a boy she has named Benedetto, who is to become another key figure in the story. Fred and Victoria marry.
End of Part One
Post war recovery completed, the story moves forward to the early 1960s. The Lombard business has been growing but ‘takes off’ when the balance between Fred’s criminal and non-criminal business changes. His criminal activity becomes dramatically more successful when he is approached by, and associates himself with, an Italian organised crime ‘family’. The Lombards are able to leave their immigrant home, in the poor east-end of Glasgow, and move to a villa in a salubrious neighbourhood – Bearsden. The Lombard’s son, Benedetto (Benny) also becomes involved in local crime but, neither as astute nor well-connected as his father, quickly acquires a police record with successive periods in borstal and prison. During one such term in prison his again-pregnant mother travels to Italy where she gives birth to another son, Pietro.
Fred’s rising profile in the criminal community brings him increasingly to the attention of the police. A senior policeman, corruptly involved with other Glasgow criminals, does everything he can to bring Fred’s growing ‘empire’ down. He repeatedly fails because of ‘behind the scenes’ help from Fred’s Italian associates. Increasingly desperate the policeman threatens the life of the infant Pietro who, for his safety, is ‘spirited away’ to Italy to be brought up by surrogates, the Marchetti family. They name the boy Federigo.
Emerging from prison with contacts, and ideas, of his own Benny seeks to persuade his father to change the base of their criminal activity and make him a partner. He wants him to move from ‘traditional’ crime, like robbery, and gambling, into prostitution, protection racketeering, and drug supplying. An old school ‘crook’, with a traditional view of honour and morality amongst thieves, Fred rejects this and, in so doing, lights the fuse of a deadly family war.
The story now moves forward on two fronts: Italy and Glasgow. In Italy, young Federigo is taken under the protection of a businessman, Rico Morisi. Federigo has no direct contact with Morisi; he and the Marchettis receive his help through Morisi’s solicitor and right-hand man, Piero Bosco. The same Piero Bosco. Morisi pays for Federigo’s education and then his training as an accountant. Morisi has a villa in the far north of Italy, on Lake Como, where Federigo goes every vacation to help with the accounts.
In Glasgow Benny, mad with frustration, forms an alliance with his father’s main competitor and begins to sell their drugs through his family’s fleet of ice-cream vans. When his father finds out he ejects him from the family home and moves to disinherit him. Benny, together with his new associates, and the collusion of the corrupt policeman, arranges for his father’s assassination and the takeover of his business. It is at this time that Benny discovers of the existence of his brother in Italy and arranges for his murder too.
The story moves back to Italy. Benny strikes but Federigo is away in the Morisi villa at Como, working, The Marchettis are killed in a staged car crash and fire. There are three bodies in the car so Federigo is believed dead also, but it is the Marchetti’s pool boy whose charred body is found with them in the car. Morisi, believing the attack to have been directed at his business sends Bosco to tell Federigo of the accident but, unaware that it is his own brother Benny who has tried to kill him, Bosco sends him to Glasgow, under an assumed identity, to find his real family.
Federigo arrives in time to witness his father’s funeral. He meets Benny, and his mother, for the first time. Benny, realising his plot has failed, takes Federigo into his protection. Using the fact of Federigo’s illegal status and false identity, he involves him in crime as a means of controlling him. Meanwhile, developing a close bond with his real mother, Federigo discovers that she is suspicious, and afraid, of Benny. Together with Federigo, she sets about uncovering his duplicity. During this time Federigo learns about his real family’s history, his upbringing, and the identity of his father.
In pursuit of evidence against Benny, and information about her late husband’s business contacts, Victoria Lombard goes to Italy and meets with Bosco. She recognises him as the injured soldier from Sommocolonia. Unmarried, Bosco declares he has been carrying a torch all these years. He followed her to Scotland after the war but finding her married and happy with Fred, and a son, he returned to Italy. He thinks, in other circumstances, Benny could have been his child, and out of love for Victoria, it is he who has been using Morisi’s network to secure Fred’s business all these years. Victoria explains that Benny is not his son; the brief affair he believes he had with Victoria was an hallucination, brought on by his infected wound. Shocked to discover the truth about Benny’s betrayal of his comrade-in-arms and his friend Fred, he agrees to work with Victoria to gather evidence, and protect her and Federigo from him.
When they have proof, using Federigo’s skill as an accountant, they seed doubt in the minds of Benny’s criminal associates, and the corrupt police, about his suitability as a partner, and they begin to cut their ties with, and protection of, him.
Meanwhile Morisi, as an important criminal in his own right, with links to organised crime in Naples and Sicily, is under ever-increasing scrutiny of the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza. Bosco, as his confidante and solicitor, is also under suspicion and now fighting on two fronts. He launches a plan to use Benny as a sacrificial goat and get the police off his, and Morisi’s, back.
Bosco lures Benny to Italy, using an offer to protect Benny from his own camorrista backers and shore up his business. When the trap is sprung, by Bosco and Victoria, Benny is exposed and alone. Terrified and humiliated he trades his life by betraying his backers, and the corrupt police in Glasgow, to the Italian police and one final twist is revealed.