Roberto Saviano used to cruise around Naples on his Vespa for material that would one day fill his book about the criminal underworld. His anonymity provided ample cover as he trolled for tips and frequented murder scenes. "Over time, my face became known," the 28-year-old writes in Gomorra, a riveting account of the Naples Mob. "[But] in territory under surveillance every second … anything that isn't a hindrance is considered neutral."
But with 100,000 copies sold since April, Saviano is no longer considered neutral, and no longer safe. After getting death threats from the local organized crime syndicate, he's keeping a low profile under 24-hour guard. Umberto Eco has compared the situation to the Islamic fatwa against Salman Rushdie, but the mob's violent persecution of muckrakers is, in fact, a particularly Italian legacy. "You need journalists," says Giovanni De Mauro, a Rome magazine editor whose journalist uncle was killed by the mob. "But then the battle must be waged by politicians and law enforcement." One day, they might help get Saviano back on his Vespa.