Numero Uno by Umberto Eco. Translated from Italian by Richard Dixon. 1st U.S. edition published in November, 2015.Marg_4 icon

Here’s an intellectual read for you, historical fiction outlined in conspiracy. It’s a short one – 191 pages – but a good one, witty and wry. The story takes place in Milan, 1992 with a group of writers (‘writers’ used loosely in this context) being hired to create a shell newspaper. The financier hopes to make some hush money when presenting the guilty with leading innuendos in his writers’ stories.

Colonna, 50ish and unaccomplished, oversees the newspaper staff, one of which is a horoscope writer. They go for stories like a weeping Madonna statue and bump it up with a mega-sized headline.

But one writer has a bigger idea. To follow up on his theory that Mussolini wasn’t actually killed when and how history reports it. In fact, he thinks he’s living in Argentina, finding reinforcement when Mussolini’s son moves there. So that’s the underlying base to the conspiracy part of this read, but layered on top is the concept of Operation Gladio ‘stay behinds’ and the belief that they were already in place in Italy.

Stay-behinds were kind of like sleeper cells in Italy during the Cold War. They were men who had battle experience and stayed behind after their military units pulled out. Their purpose was to continue resistance if a Warsaw Pact invasion occurred. Gladio is the codename for stay-behinds with the American CIA funding some of this effort.

Eco is also known for his fictional novel, Cemetery in Prague, first published in the U.S. in 2011. He’s an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and lives in Milan. Numero Zero won’t change my life for having read it, but I thought the concept was clever and the historical detail was excellent. In the Cool Mona rating system, I give 4 margaritas to Numero Zero.