In the tradition of City of Thieves by David Benioff, The Curse of Pietro Houdini is an epic war story and old-fashioned heist set in the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, Italy against one of the most enigmatic and morally complex fronts of World War II where German soldiers became heroes, Allies became villains, and a child has to learn what it means to become an adult.

by Derek Miller
S&S/Avid Reader Press, March 2024
(via Writers House)

It is August 1943. Fourteen-year-old Massimo is an orphan fleeing south to Naples from Rome after his parents are killed in an American bombing raid. After he is attacked by thugs at the base of the Benedictine abbey of Montecasino, a man who calls himself Pietro Houdini (“Master Artist and confident of the Vatican!”) brings him inside. Unfortunately, the abbey sits on the German’s Gustav Line, and the allies are coming north. In the months to follow, Massimo, Pietro Houdini, the mysterious “black angel” named Ada, the cafe owner and murderer Bella Bocci, the wounded but chipper German soldier Harald, and the lovers Dino and Lucia (on their wounded mule named Ferrari) will lie, cheat, steal, fight, kill, and sin their way through the front line of the World War II to survive, all while smuggling three Titian Renaissance paintings they stole from the Nazis who were stealing them from the monks.

The Curse of Pietro Houdini is a work of fiction based on well researched historical events; it is full of compelling superbly portrayed characters who come together from all walks of life but manage to accept and protect each other in a difficult and perilous situation they are in.

Derek Miller is the author of Norwegian by Night, as well as The Girl in Green, American by Day, Radio Life, and How to Find Your Way in the Dark. His work has been shortlisted for many awards, with Norwegian by Night winning the CWA John Creasey Dagger Award for best first crime novel, among others. How to Find Your Way in the Dark was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and a New York Times best mystery of 2021. A Boston native, Miller lives in Spain with his family.

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