Dad's murder inspires novel

Former Syracusan Rita Schiano fictionalizes 1976 slaying:

[Here's what really happened:]

Rita Schiano's dad, Al Schiano, was shot to death in December 1976. Dripping blood from six bullet holes, his body was found on a rural road just north of the Onondaga County line. He was 55.

Rita, then 21, was attending Wells College in Aurora. She knew that her dad, a North Side produce dealer and professional gambler, had enemies. But that didn't make his violent death any less horrific.

[Cousin married lawyer]

Fast forward to the 1980s:

Rita's cousin, Terri DelGiorno (TV's Mrs. Fixit) married prominent local defense attorney Jim McGraw, the lawyer who had represented accused killer Vincent Calogero.

Although Calogero, who also lived in Syracuse, was never convicted of the Schiano hit, Rita and many others firmly believe he committed the crime. Calogero died in 2004.

In 2006, after years of anger and apprehension, Rita, who now lives in Massachusetts, finally spoke with her cousin's husband about the case.

That familial friction became one of the many sub-plots of Rita's new novel, "Painting the Invisible Man," based on her father's death.

Boasting a conversational prose style spiced with 1970s' allusions (Jethro Tull, Muhammad Ali, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), Schiano's story flows smoothly even as she swings rhythmically from present-day action to flashback. The use of italics to denote either flashbacks or inner thought is especially effective in keeping readers on track.

[Coming-of-age story]

While the gangland rub-out drives the book, it's less a mystery and more a coming-of-age story, Rita's own. She's represented here as the novel's narrator, Anna Matteo. We get to know the youthful Anna, a wiseacre who talks back to her teachers, carries a pellet gun in a shoulder holster under her school jacket and reads books like "Compulsion." And we get to know the 21st century Anna who, due to a computer-era twist of fate, finds herself reliving the whys and wherefores of her dad's untimely death two decades past.

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