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  • Writer's pictureSusan Russo Anderson

Don Tigro’s Backstory

Don Tigro is the recurring villain in the Serafina Florio historical mysteries. His story begins in Death of a Serpent, Serafina’s first book. Until she and her family move away to live in a safer country, her mysteries take place in a fictional town outside of Palermo, Sicily, six years after Garibaldi’s campaign begins the first leg of Italian Unification.

How to describe Don Tigro? An orphan who grew up near Palermo, he is lovable—he adores his wife; he plays the piano; and, begrudgingly, he admires Serafina.

But there is large part of him that is hateful. Don Tigro represents the rise of the mafia, an evil demanding loyalty and protection.

The Mafia filled the vacuum created when Bourbon rule collapsed after Garibaldi liberated Sicily, and Don Tigro is the Mafia don in his small town, a ruthless thug mowing down anyone who tries to block him. That includes Serafina.

In this scene from Death of a Serpent, Serafina remembers Don Tigro as an orphan:

October 1866

In her mind Serafina visits the orphanage as a child with her mother, seeing Betta and Tigro, two of the orphans standing together. “Inseparable,” her mother tells her. Tigro is dressed in hand-me downs like the others, but somehow different, straight and proud, muscular for a boy; hands at his side, and still, so still, except for his thumb and forefinger, rubbing them together slowly, deliberately, back and forth. Then he is gone—banished by Mother Concetta, Betta tells her, but doesn’t elaborate. She was on the edge of it once, much later, as she, Serafina, midwifed the birth of Betta’s twins, but never finished the story.

Early in their marriage, before the children started coming, she and Giorgio met Elisabetta and Tigro in town one evening, the four of them sitting together in the public gardens under the eucalyptus in early spring, with the doves cooing and the breeze soft and Betta’s stomach swollen. They sat, two young couples, talking of this and that. ‘Hasn’t the weather been fine, oh, fine, quite . . . the oranges bigger than the moon this year . . . the peasants happy for once . . . the price of bread . . . but now the papers talk of revolution, another uprising in—’ and out of nowhere, Tigro interrupting, ‘Betta carries my child, needs a midwife, will you—?’ Giorgio’s elbow found Serafina’s side, but not before she said, ‘Oh, yes, of course.’

So long ago now, it seems another life. Giorgio dead, and poor Betta, surrounded by ill-gotten goods, chained to his world, a prisoner. How Elisabetta loved Tigro as a child in the orphanage, loves him even now, Serafina is sure.

And if Maddalena’s story is true? Serafina shivers.

Photos: Upper Left: A town in Sicily. Lower Left: Cover, Death of a Serpent. Design, Derek Murphy

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