By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 26, 2004 at 5:30 AM

{image1}Less than a month after "Una Storia Segreta," the exhibit documenting the internment of Italian Americans during World War II, closed in Milwaukee, mystery author Lisa Scottoline arrives at Schwartz Bookshop in Mequon to read from her new novel, "Killer Smile," which touches on the same subject.

"Killer Smile" is the story of Amadeo Brandolini, a Philadelphia immigrant fisherman who was sent to an internment camp in Montana, where he commited suicide. Attorney Mary DiNunzio, hired by the Brandolini estate, is intrigued by the case and digs deeper even when things begin to get extremely dangerous. But why is there danger in a 60-year-old suicide case? Because, perhaps it wasn't suicide at all.

Scottoline, an Italian American gal, and former lawyer, from South Philly, has written 10 previous novels -- and has won the Edgar, the mystery world's highest honor -- but most haven't incorporated an historical event like this one as a major part of the story.

"I've never done it before," she admits in a phone interview from a Louisville hotel, "except for one book, which had a little historical setting. I write these books they call thrillers, but for me it always has to work as a novel. It has to have something personal, something deeper. This had a good 'what is justice' question."

That question, of course, is the question of the morality -- if not the legality -- of the internment of Italian American resident aliens by the United States Government. And that question is -- despite the fact that "Una Storia Segreta" has traveled across the country for a decade -- still a hidden one.

"I've been on the trail for two weeks, doing readings (around the country) and talking about this and there are plenty of Italian Americans at the events saying, 'What's this?'," Scottoline says.

In fact, she only learned about the internment herself a few years ago.

"I didn't know about it until, unfortunately, my dad became ill with cancer and passed two years ago," she says. "When he knew he was going to pass away, he called me over and said, 'I have papers for you.' He said, 'This is all that's left of your grandparents,' and he gave me the deed to a cemetery plot and their alien registration papers. And you can see the papers in the back of the book."

{image2}That was all it took for Scottoline to become obsessed about learning more. She read the two books on the subject and then hit the National Archives to read the files, which meant making a Freedom of Information Act request and waiting more than a year for the files. But when she read them, she was shocked.

"My grandparents were like most of them (Italian Americans), they considered themselves Americans," she says. "The had lived here 30 years and had never broken the law and had even offered a son up to the war effort. I look at the (alien registration) cards and I think it's a very unfair thing."

"Killer Smile" is a tautly plotted mystery and an extremely readable novel, but it's more than that to Scottoline, who, since writing it, has become active in Italian America and recently joined the board of the National Italian American Foundation.

"I feel like I got some justice for my grandparents, who were ashamed (of what happened during the war). I got to say you shouldn't be ashamed."

Lisa Scottoline reads from and signs copies of "Killer Smile" at Schwartz Bookshop, 10976 N. Port Washington Road in Mequon, Monday, June 28 at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Lisa Scottoline's Web site is scottoline.com. The "Una Storia Segreta" Web site is segreta.org.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.