Jo Piazza’s forthcoming novel The Sicilian Inheritance may be the bestselling author’s first foray into mystery and historical fiction, but it’s inspired by very real-life events. When Sara Marsala’s beloved great-aunt Rosie dies, she heads to Sicily to settle a disputed inheritance and unearths a bombshell secret: that her great-great-grandmother, Serafina, may have been murdered after her husband moved to America for work. As a woman flying solo, the fiercely independent Serafina challenged the status quo for her and her fellow village women — but found herself in danger as a result. Now, many years later, Sara is coming face to face with these same forces as she attempts to find out what really happened to Serafina.

Piazza’s own great-great-grandmother, Lorenza Marsala, was murdered in Sicily more than 100 years ago after her husband, brothers-in-law, and sons moved to America. (Piazza’s working with the production company Kaleidoscope to develop a true-crime podcast about the murder.) Lorenza was in the process of selling the family farm but never made it to the States, a story that was often retold at Piazza’s family reunions, funerals, and weddings. And when Piazza visited Sicily several years ago, older women told her stories, which had been passed down to them, about women like Lorenza being empowered for the first time when their husbands would leave Sicily: They’d learn to read, write, and do accounting, and take on men’s jobs. And while it was very necessary, it could also be very dangerous.

The story piqued Piazza’s curiosity about what it would be like navigating life alone as a wife and as a mother after your husband moves to a new country. That curiosity, Piazza says, became the kernel she used to imagine her new novel. The Sicilian Inheritance is out April 2, 2024, and is available for pre-order now. In the meantime, consider this excerpt below, exclusive to Bustle, your aperitivo.

Viewed from above, the shapely boot of Italy appears to be kicking the island of Sicily into the tumultuous crease between the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Seas. The color of the water beneath us shifted and swirled from light blue to navy to an emerald green. Our plane nearly grazed the severe cliffs lining the shore as we swooped above the burnt orange rooftops of Palermo.

It was gorgeous and otherworldly and still I thought, for maybe the hundredth time since I took off from Philadelphia, What the hell am I doing?

“It’s an adventure, baby girl.” I heard Rosie so clearly that my eyes watered. The fact that I didn’t make this trip with her when she was alive weighed me down and yet it still felt like she was right there with me.

Rosie’s last voice memo to me on the day before she died played on repeat in my mind.

Buck up. Get your *ss out of bed and seize the g*dd*mn day.

I hoped that she had managed to seize her last g*dd*mn day.

“Do you think she was losing it?” Carla asked when I told her about what Aunt Rosie wanted me to do here in Sicily, about the all-expenses-paid trip, about the deed for land that might or might not be worth anything. “Did she have dementia at the end that we didn’t know about?”

“She was sharp as a knife.”

“You sure? Everyone sort of loses it when they’re that old,” Carla said.

“I’m totally sure she hadn’t lost it.”

“I wish I was going with you. I mean it’s not like she bought me a plane ticket or anything, but I wish I could have gotten out of work to come even if I had to pay my own way.”

“I know,” I said. “And Rosie probably knew you had a big case going on, plus the kids.” I lied to assuage my sister’s quiet jealousy. We both knew I was Rosie’s favorite and most of the time it never bothered Carla because she had been everyone else’s favorite for our entire lives. She was bouncy, sparkly, and liquid magic. In addition to everything that made Carla so outwardly lovely, she also made you feel like the most captivating person in the room and that made her the truly captivating one. Things just worked for her while I struggled for everything. I never resented her though; her charm worked on me most of all. Rosie had understood from the very start that I needed one person to love me a little bit more than they loved my sister.

But Carla still felt the need to add, “Also she knew you needed cash. And that getting away would be good for you. This was like her final way of taking care of you. You’ve hardly changed your clothes for the past two weeks.”

“That’s not true.” It was true.

“So do what the letter says. Go to Sicily. Figure out if this deed is real or not. It’s probably not, but whatever,” Carla said. “Have sex with some hunky Italian men who don’t speak a word of English. Eat good food and drink all the wine, eat and pray and love and all that sh*t, and then come back and put your life back together.”

In that moment we both pretended like food and sex could be the answer to what had broken me instead of therapy, pharmaceuticals, and a time machine. I promised her I would try my best.

The second I made it out of customs I ran into a meatball-shaped man hoisting a sign with my name above his head like I was someone who mattered.

“Sara Marsala. Buongiorno. Come stai? Spero tutto bene.” I translated in my head. Good morning. How are you? I hope all is well.

The meatball kissed both of my cheeks like we were old friends and switched to a heavily accented English.

“I am so sorry for the loss of Rosie. Such a woman! A good friend. A compadre.”

His intimacy surprised me. “You knew Rosie?”

“Of course, I knew Rosie. We spoke many times on the computer and the WhatsApp. Many times. She was looking for a driver for you, but she got a friend in me.” He pounded on his chest like a proud ape.

“Let me feed you. She would want me to feed you.” Before I knew it, he’d led me by the elbow to a small outdoor café just past the taxi line. He introduced himself properly while we walked. “I am Pippo.” It was pronounced Peep-poh. He drilled down hard on the last syllable like it was a surprise, a puppet jumping out of a jack-in-the-box. Pippo abandoned me at an unsteady table for two and quickly returned with a tiny paper cup of espresso and a soft sugary donut the size of a baby’s head.

“Ciambella!” He announced the name of the pastry like he was presenting me with an Oscar.

I could almost see my reflection in the pastry’s thick sheen of butter before I devoured it in seconds. For the past couple of months, nothing tasted good. In fact, almost everything I put in my mouth since I learned I’d have to close the restaurant tasted like cardboard. Eating, once my greatest joy, turned into the most mundane activity of my day. The ciambella was the first time in a long time that I actually derived pleasure from something.

Pippo started rustling around in his bag and handed me a brown envelope, the same kind that came in the mail two weeks earlier, the same handwriting, except this one was addressed to me, care of Pippo Guenetto. I slid my finger beneath the seal and a laminated photograph fell onto my lap. It used to hang in Rosie’s hallway with all of our school pictures. It was the only photograph she had of her mother, one taken in 1925 right before Serafina died. The boys in the picture, Cosimo, Vincenzo, and my grandfather Santo, looked like teenagers, almost as tall as their father. Serafina stared directly into the lens. I’d never thought much about this picture before. Despite knowing she was younger than me when she died, I still always thought of Serafina as old, matronly. But looking at this photo in a new light, I noticed her sharp cheekbones, her smooth skin, almost childlike, though there was nothing innocent about her eyes. Her stare was hard and timeworn. Her lips were full, not unlike my own. They formed a slash across her face. Not a scowl exactly, but more a look of displeased resignation.

I took one final look at the photo, Serafina’s eyes boring into my own, before I read Rosie’s script.

My darling girl. There’s another reason I wanted you to come all the way here. I didn’t want to tell you at first because I know you hate surprises and you’re in no mood for a real adventure. This trip is first and foremost for you. I want you to figure out if you can get any money from this tiny plot of land and use it however you need to solve your problems. More than anything I hope this time away will bring you back to your true self and get you back on your feet. But I’m also a selfish old broad and I have one favor to ask now that you are here.

There’s something that has never sat right with me about how my mother did not join us here in the States. I was always told she got sick, that she died of a flu. But as a girl I heard things I was never supposed to hear. I didn’t dare ask any questions. Children didn’t ask them back then. I know there is more to my mother’s story. I did some research while I’ve been stuck in my damn bed but no one in Sicily will really talk to me while I am still in the US. You gotta be there to get people to open up. I was hoping this would be something we could do together, but if I can’t figure it out for myself I need you to do it for me. I don’t know why it gives me peace now to ask you to do this, but like I said, I’m a selfish old broad.

I want you to find out what really happened to my mother.

Excerpted from The Sicilian Inheritance by Jo Piazza. Copyright © 2024 by Jo Piazza. Reprinted with permission from Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House.