by Barbara Quinn
Published by Xlibris
229 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Call Me Testa Dura
Reviewed by Lynne Remick
Rosanna Domenico Sweeney's hardheaded father would not divulge her secret connections to Italy. A dying man, Tino Domenico made his daughter promise that she would never go back to Italy. However, this promise Rosanna intended to break, regardless of the fact that danger lurked around every corner.
Distracted by her father's pending death, Rosanna doesn't realize that two men are stalking both her and her daughter. Upon the death of her father, Rosanna relocates to her childhood home, with the stalkers not far behind. Not only memories of the past await her there, but the ashes of an unresolved love affair.
Hardheaded, like her dad, Rosanna won't let the resurfacing of old emotions get in her way. Certain there is a connection between a strange symbol kept by her father and his quiet past, Rosanna pawns her jewelry and purchases two plane tickets to Italy. There, she encounters the secret of her own past -- one which puts both her and her daughter in danger.
At the core of Hardhead is a legend of the Testa Dura, a title held by the winner of an unthinkable test of endurance held in Pieta, Calabria. This proves to be one of the more fascinating aspects of the book. Rosanna's father earned the distinction of the "Testa Dura," and she recounts the tale in her eulogy at his funeral. Of course, the real connection of this event with Hardhead's plot unfolds slowly as the story goes on.
Hardhead includes traits of mainstream mystery, historical, romance, crime and suspense genres, yet doesn't seem to fit any of the molds. While this may be a plus from certain angles, at times it causes expectations that result in disappointment.
The character of Rosanna provided disappointment number one and further complicated my desire to enjoy this mystery. After losing her husband to an airplane crash, she pawns her wedding band to fund this trip to Italy to defy her father/break her promise to him and put both herself and her daughter in danger. This irrational behavior was irksome.
At its start, Hardhead reads like a Mafia hit in progress. However, the Mafioso overtones provided some confusion: Hardhead is not about the Mafia. The men watching Rosanna and her daughter work for a man with ties to her father's past and the Ndraghetta or Saggese. Still, all this information appears in a manner too sketchy to create the desired impact upon the reader.
Not far into the novel, it begins to read like a love story -- a "girl returns to her home town and picks up with old flame" type of romance. Because the love interest employed a person of questionable background to decapitate dolls in his home, this scenario didn't work for me. Later on, when he reveals his motives, it all makes sense, and yet, I couldn't figure out how this character performed any truly essential task in the story that couldn't have been doled out to someone more fulfilling.
Gino, the second love interest, provided a nice dose of intrigue -- was this guy connected to the bad guys, was he the bad guy, or did he really love her? This character added to the romance, mystery and suspense of the novel, as does the character of Paolo, who befriends Rosanna's daughter in Italy.
Beneath the confusion of this busy story lies a great premise and fabulous blood vendetta. Perhaps in a tighter setting, it would have kept me on the edge of my seat. Truly, all the elements are in place, but either don't add up, don't line up correctly to maximize suspense, or are too clouded by white noise.
Such a shame, because I really tried to listen up. However, there's always next time. Barbara Quinn shows enough promise in Hardhead that I predict there will be a next time. | February 2001
An avid reader, established reviewer and writer of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, historical romance and children's book, Lynne Remick can always be found with a book in her hand. She lives in New York with her fiance Michael, her son Kevin, her Schipperke Dante, a feral cat named Sahara and a spoiled hedgehog named Nike. There, in a little house once owned by her Great Grandparents, she reads, writes stories, book reviews, writing columns and poetry.