The Black Hand:
Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

  1. The following quotation from Machiavelli is used as the book's epigraph: "I'm not interested in the status quo; I want to overthrow it." What is the significance of this statement? Why do you think the author chose a Machiavelli quote, and this one in particular?
  2. The prologue to The Black Hand is set at the seaside estate of Barker's lady love, though "the Widow" herself is not actually introduced until midway through the story. What effect did this opening setting have on your reading experience, especially if you have read previous novels in the Barker & Llewelyn series? Do you think that introducing the novel at Philippa's home emphasizes an element of romance? If the story had begun with a scene involving the battle at the docks, how would that change the tone of this novel?
  3. Barker relates the history of the Mafia to Llewelyn as they become more involved in their investigation. Were you surprised to discover that the Mafia was actually conceived in London by a member of the Freemason society (p. 55) as a movement to overthrow the French occupation in Sicily? Did you find that the historical references throughout the novel enriched your reading experience? Are there any particular historical elements in the book that you might further explore and research?
  4. Inspector Pettigrilli remarks to Barker, "You make it very easy for criminals in this country. They come and go quite freely, if I may say it. England is very indulgent" (p. 66). Consider what you may know about modern immigration laws in England. How different do you think the situation is today from the way it is portrayed in the Victorian London of The Black Hand? How do Barker and Llewelyn regard the various immigrant communities featured in this story? Do these immigrants consider themselves true Londoners? Do you think that crime is a result of illegal immigration, or are the two primarily unrelated? Discuss your feelings with the group.
  5. Barker explains to Llewelyn, "There is nothing more dangerous than a mercenary, trained in the art of war, who is cunning enough to use the political situation to his own economic advantage" (p. 118). As Llewelyn points out, Barker, too, can be defined as a mercenary of sorts. How does Barker regard his occupation?
  6. Were you surprised by Llewelyn's decision to continue working with Barker after he was given the option to find new employment? Or did you expect it? Do you think his decision was affected by the fact that so much of Barker's personal life was revealed to him while the two worked on this case? How did your feelings about Barker evolve after you learned about his life as a pirate, his relationship with Philippa, and his atypical praise for Llewelyn?
  7. As Barker and Llewelyn wrap up the details of the case, Barker reveals that at some point throughout the investigation he suspected almost everyone involved (p. 272). As the reader, who did you believe was guilty? Did you guess that Hooligan would defect and help the Sicilians during the dock battle? Did you think that Marco Faldo was actually masquerading as another character? What methods did Will Thomas employ to maintain the mystery in The Black Hand?
  8. How does The Black Hand compare to other mob and Mafia stories that you're familiar with? If this book were to become a movie, whom would you cast as its characters?
Enhance Your Book Club
  1. Research the secret societies or organizations mentioned in the book, such as the Camorra, the Mafia, and the Freemasons. Find a surprising fact, such as an unexpected member of such societies or an episode in which such societies were involved. Share your research with the group.
  2. Play a game using the L'occhio skills (p. 75) that Llewelyn learned from Mr. Gallenga. Have one member of the group create a setting with various target objects. Pass out flyers with the target objects listed, and allow the group members to have thirty seconds to survey the room and record where the objects are located. The person who successfully spies the most objects from the list should win a prize.
  3. Host your book club meeting at an Italian restaurant or, if possible, one serving Sicilian-style dishes.