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.
Nothing is allowed to unfold without Saviano’s weighty comment ... One soon gives up trying to remember who is who. Nor does the translation help. Antony Shugaar has done sterling work in the past, but he never finds a credible register for Saviano’s overheated prose, let alone dialogues in Neapolitan dialect ... Perhaps Saviano’s clunky imagery is contagious. In Shugaar’s defence one can only say that almost any translation would have pointed up the uneasily inauthentic voice of this disappointing book.