review by Patrick H. Moore

John F. Nardizzi’s new suspense novel, Telegraph Hill, is a compelling “read” with all the ingredients we expect in a well-crafted “edge-of-your-seat” crime novel – delectable women, cold-eyed antagonists, sudden episodes of nerve-splitting violence and, of course, a courageous and swashbuckling protagonist, but it’s also much more than that. Like Raymond Chandler’s late works of fiction, it is a highly moral tale, the story of “one good man,” Boston private investigator Ray Infantino, adrift in a dangerous and unforgiving universe.

Mr. Nardizzi is that rarest of folks writing crime fiction – a real live P.I. who makes his living working in the field. Hence, he knows his turf like most of us know the décor of our living rooms or the wax job on our automobiles. This gives his writing a sense of reality that is sometimes absent from works of crime fiction.

nardEarly on in the story, Ray – to his surprise – is contacted by Lucas Michaels, erstwhile blue-blood and one of Boston’s most respected criminal defense lawyers. Michaels, who brims with confidence and gravitas, offers Ray a handsome $10,000 retainer to find Tania Kong  — a half-Thai, half Chinese beauty — who through a series of unfortunate circumstances had become estranged from her family. Now, years later, her family is searching for her and is offering a handsome reward, $10, 000 of which Michaels has earmarked for Ray. It is soon revealed that Tania’s misadventures had led her to the fallen life of a San Francisco call girl – the expensive variety but a prostitute nonetheless.

After his meeting with Michaels, Ray Infantino flies to San Francisco to begin his search for Tania. Nardizzi, who utilizes a shifting third-person point-of-view, allows the reader to overhear Lucas Michaels, who is calling on a disposable phone, telling a contact in San Francisco:

 “Our investigator will be out there next week.”

“Who is he?”

“Ray Infantino. Highly recommended for this sort matter. Once he finishes his work, make sure you finish yours.”

And just like that the careful reader senses that Michaels may be “dirty” and that Ray – shrewd though he might be – appears to be walking into a trap.

Tania proves to be a lovely and tragic update of the “hooker with a heart of gold” syndrome. She is unbearably lovely, artistic by nature, excellent in bed, and bi-sexual. She was disowned in China by her callous step-mother after her father’s untimely death. Thus began a lifetime of disillusionment which culminated in her working as a call girl for the Black Fist Triad, a powerful Chinese organized crime syndicate. Tania finds herself hunted by her own employers because she had the bad luck to witness a Triad “whack job.” It’s a helluva thing to discover that the same people who have been paying you for lying on your back are now using every means at their disposal to murder you.

triadSo Tania runs for her life – through Golden Gate Park and through the mean streets of San Francisco, to an ashram at Point Reyes in trendy Marin County and back to the City. Literally hundreds of Triad gangsters of every ilk, from cold-eyed wannabes to cold-eyed veteran killers, join in the hunt.

Ray Infantino is also on the hunt, only his job is to rescue Tania. Along the way, he ultimately discovers that Lucas Michaels is “dirty” and that Tania has been betrayed by her own step-mother, who – it turns out – is the Iron Maiden of Asian Crime and controls the Black Fist Triad.

Rather than opting for the constant slam-bam violence that — in my opinion — arguably gives a cartoonish quality to many contemporary thrillers, Nardizzi’s violence is spare, sudden and terrifying. But make no mistake, it is there and it is chilling.

In what to me is a curious choice, Nardizzi introduces a second plot-thread into this carefully crafted work of literature. Once he arrives in San Francisco, the reader discovers that Ray has been running from a past catastrophe – the former love of his life, Diana, was murdered in a firebombing by white supremacists in her apartment on the edge of Telegraph Hill several years previously. Thus, even as Ray risks his life to rescue Tania, he also tries to unpack the mystery of his former girlfriend’s tragic death.

As the story progresses, Ray engages in several firefights with the Black Fist Triad and demonstrates the tactical and strategic prowess that is his calling card.

The typical reader will find himself or herself identifying deeply with Tania and her plight and hoping whole-heartedly for her deliverance. The reader will also identify with Ray and his anguish over Diana’s unsolved murder but perhaps to a lesser degree.

John F. Nardizzi is an excellent craftsman and his writing is the antithesis of the one-dimensional, overheated thriller. His descriptions of San Francisco and Boston are spot-on and he manages to create a compelling neo-noir atmosphere with seeming ease. His descriptions of Telegraph Hill are keenly evocative:

hillHe turned and hiked up past small, shaded cottages on either side, accessible by way of narrow paths lined with century plants and pine. Wild parrots flitted and chattered overhead. Every few minutes, Ray looked back, but he felt better here. Telegraph Hill was a tree-sheltered labyrinth of one way streets and dead ends, alleys that zigzagged over the overgrown hill. He knew the hills well from having walked them almost every day while having lived in the neighborhood.

hill2…Coit Tower, smooth and creamy-gray, pronged the sky above him. Music wafted from cars parked on top of the hill, the ominous storm of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. Every now and then, a hiker scrambled over the hillside. Some wore designer boots and sipped the remains of a North Beach coffee, walking slowly, rubbing their calf muscles. Others, prepared and determined, maneuvered skillfully over the rocky hill.

Ray Infantino is that “prepared and determined” individual who “maneuver’s skillfully” through the fallen world of John F. Nardizzi’s compelling suspense novel. This is a worthwhile “read” which I strongly recommend.


nard2John Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction. He lives in the Boston area and supports AS Roma and Barcelona.




4 Responses to “Telegraph Hill” by John F. Nardizzi Is A Compelling Suspense Novel

  1. […] Click here to read All Things Crime Bog’s review of John’s crime novel, Telegraph Hill. […]

  2. […] Please click here to read All Things Crime Blog’s review of John’s crime novel, Telegraph Hill. […]

  3. […] Please click here to read All Things Crime Bog’s review of John’s crime novel, Telegraph Hill. […]

  4. […] Please click here to read All Things Crime Bog’s review of John’s crime novel, Telegraph Hill. […]

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