Naples and “The Alcoholic Mercenary”

Phil Hughes, author of The Alcoholic Mercenary, is our guest blogger today, with a fascinating insight into Naples as background for his writing.

The Alcoholic Mercenary

By Phil Hughes

30th April 2022 / 350 Pages

Why was I drawn to write about Naples? By Phil Hughes

I spent my career working as a writer and editor. When a contract came up in Naples, I had been in a three-month lull, so I jumped at the opportunity. I was not so much drawn to Naples as thrust into the furnace by an accident of fate. The city was dirty, corrupt, and overrun with criminality, and I loved it. More of a surprise: my wife loved it too. In fact, we loved it so much, we lived there for many happy years.

The Alcoholic Mercenary is mainly based in Pozzuoli, the primary urban centre (or commune) where my wife and I lived, albeit in a fishing village called Lucrino, which is on the outskirts of the Commune di Pozzuoli, just up the coast. If you look at the photo, Lucrino is the village crawling up the dormant volcano, Monte Nuovo.

Having been a writer for so long, writing about a location of such contradictions was out of my control: I could not resist. By contradictions, I mean such things as it being one of the most OC infested areas of the world, yet the local people are some of the kindest (including the criminals). Core d’oro, the locals call it, or heart of gold. For instance, when we arrived, a gangster invited us to his sister’s wedding, which was straight out of the opening scene to The Godfather, even down to the local folk music and strange dancing. I am sure, somewhere in the grounds of the sprawling restaurant, a Don was conducting business as we dined on a sixteen-course dinner.

Unlike in Northern European countries, the criminality in Naples is not bound by education necessarily: at the bottom end of the spectrum, the uneducated, unemployed masses, who by the very nature of their society, turned to the mafia to make a living (I use the past tense because I am not sure if it is still the case) versus the educated few, who stuck their noses up, those with a puzzo sotto il naso — or a stink under their noses. A good education is available to those with money and not necessarily brains. Being taught to know better does not preclude Neapolitans from the criminal class. As an example, we had a friend who was a doctor. He was involved in an OC scam, where disability certificates were sold. He was quickly caught because he sold a certificate of blindness to a guy who was subsequently arrested for speeding up the motorway. After being stopped, the police discovered he was without a license, tax, or insurance, and — it later transpired — without the use of his eyes. How anyone so intellectually challenged became a doctor should be a mystery. It’s not because it’s possible to resit your exams in Italy until you pass (as long as you can afford it). Our friend didn’t graduate until he was forty-two.

One of my many anecdotes about the contradictions of Naples involves another friend asking me to help him find his Persian Grey. I agreed. He told me the cat had gone missing in his local area, and we stopped by his house to run an “errand” before beginning the search. The errand turned out to be his retrieving a Colt .45 from a shoebox under his bed. Searching involved knocking on his neighbours’ doors and demanding the return of his cat with the Colt visibly protruding from the waistband of his chinos. We never found the cat. My friend later confessed to asking for my help because, at 6’2, the locals considered my height sufficiently threatening that the Colt never needed to be drawn. Only believable when you learn that in Naples back in the nineties, the average height of men was 5’4. The contradiction of searching for a fluffy feline with — what was really — a cannon stuffed in his chinos never fails to astound me.

Of course, as a historical fiction author, research is paramount. Researching The Alcoholic Mercenary’s locations is probably the most problem-free of any of my projects to date. As I wrote earlier, I lived in the Commune di Pozzuoli for many years and know it very well. I suspect Pozzuoli has changed very little, despite returning to Ireland in 2006. I first visited the town in 1975 while on a month’s holiday. When I returned to live there in the early nineties, the first thing that struck me was how it had remained fundamentally unchanged. The whole area is known to live in a time warp. For instance, the local economy is barter-based because of a lack of employment. The doctor mentioned earlier was paid for home visits with local produce: half a pig or a demijohn of wine, to name but two.

Other areas I describe in the book include the airport at Capodichino and Bagnoli NATO base. I flew in and out of Capodichino on countless occasions. In fact, the scene where Rachel arrives on the apron to feel the heat through her shoe soles is based on my own arrival. I also used to teach Shakespeare to the children of serving US Navy and Jarheads at the high School on Bagnoli NATO base. As such, I witnessed the rundown nature of the interior firsthand. I also bought stuff in the PX on the base, possible because of Mary, my next-door neighbour’s, goodwill. Mary was a US Navy meteorologist based at the Naval Support Activity command at Capodichino.

I did use a well-known map app as a pro-memoria to street layouts, but that was all.

About The Alcoholic Mercenary

They said, “See Naples and then die!”

Rachel had thought it was to do with the natural beauty of the place. A misconception she soon lost after climbing down from the C130 troop carrier. The suspicious death of her predecessor, followed by the murder of a sailor, and an enforced liaison with a chauvinistic and probably corrupt cop saw to that.

“See Naples and then die!”

Some said the saying was anonymous. Some attributed it to Goethe. Still, others said it was Lord Byron, or maybe Keats. When the young brother of a mercenary hitman became her main suspect, Rachel leant towards Keats. Didn’t the poet die here? Somewhere near, for sure. Probably coined the phrase on his deathbed.

And then, the cherry on the top of her ice cream soda, she could smell grappa on the breath of the mercenary when she interviewed him. The only thing worse than a violent man: a violent man who drinks.

The only thing worse than a violent man who drinks: a violent man who drinks and considers himself Rachel’s enemy.

Where to buy:

Available on #KindleUnlimited

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About Phil Hughes

Although educated in Classical Studies, Phil is the author of several historical crime novels. Having spent many years living in the Mafia infested hinterlands of Naples, Phil bases his novels on his experiences while living there. Much of what he includes in his stories is based on real events witnessed first-hand.

Having retired from writing and editing technical documentation for a living, Phil now lives in Wexford with his partner and their border terriers, Ruby, Maisy, and the new addition Ted. He writes full time and where better to do it than in the Sunny South East of Ireland.

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Thanks Phil. Hope you had a great Blog Tour

@Phil_Hughes_Nov @maryanneyarde

#HistoricalFiction #Crime #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub

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