Saviano and his translator, Antony Shugaar, use the nuances of language to reflect on the culture that produces gangs of violent young boys ... The Piranhas contains scenes of violence that are shocking not just in their ferocity but for the youth and immaturity of the perpetrators. The gangsters of this novel are children who carry out crimes in between rounds of PlayStation ... Saviano paints a portrait of youthful disaffection and misguided priorities, ending in tragedy as daisy chains of violent acts reach their inevitable conclusions.
The Piranhas is a readable jumble of 'j’accuse' and academia, of highfalutin phrase-making and mean-streets action ... There are guns and girls (there’s a bit of a love story with Letizia). It all sounds authentic, but the pace is pretty idling—there are paragraphs that continue over two pages. Some of the sentences wouldn’t get past the first day of a creative writing course ... The plot isn’t bad. Things happen, even if the smooth ascent of our anti-hero is a bit James Bond at times ... The reason it annoys the reader is that occasionally you get hints of decent writing. You sense, for a page or two, that it’s going to get all Elmore Leonard—fast, precise and funny—but then it suddenly goes saggy again, and you wonder if Saviano has become such an iconic writer that no one dares to edit him any more.
Saviano, well-established as a crime journalist, delivers an effective yarn without much of a moral: Bad kids will rise to their own level, and, if given half a chance, the best of them will become even worse than their best teachers. There are a lot of Neapolitan cultural details, perhaps a touch too much for the casual reader, and a few walk-on characters too many, but Saviano’s story careens to a satisfying if sanguinary conclusion. A well-wrought crime story that could as easily have been a documentary: truthful and sobering.