Brutal Slayings, Government Corruption, and More
Here are eight first-rate novels about crime in Italy; some are written by Italians, and all are penned by authors who love the country’s contrary and colorful ways. Their sleuths are skeptical of their ability to make a difference in a nation where the government is just as crooked as the criminals. It’s like the Dutch boy who tried to stop the flood by sticking his finger in a hole in the dyke. The problem is that in Italy, there’s always another hole to plug. And only so many fingers with which to do it. [Don’t miss these two recently published arrivals: an Italian female cop stars in Serge Quadruppani’s The Sudden Disappearance of the Worker Bees: A Commissario Simona Tavianello Mystery (Arcade, Sept.), and Florentine DI Sandro Cellini probes the suicide of a politician’s wife in Christobel Kent’s A Darkness Descending: A Mystery in Florence (Pegasus Crime, Sept.).—Ed.]
Camilleri, Andrea. Treasure Hunt: An Inspector Montalbano Mystery. Penguin. Oct. 2013. 288p. tr. from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. ISBN 9780143122623. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698136281. M
Insp. Salvo Montalbano, who lives and works in Vigata, Sicily, becomes an instant celebrity when he scales a wall, gun in hand, to capture two elderly siblings, crazed by religion, who are shooting at the people in the piazza below them as punishment for their sins. Then someone, nobody knows who, sends Montalbano a series of cryptic messages in bad verse. Farce—a pair of matching inflatable sex dolls feature in the story—turns into tragedy as the narrative progresses. A mishmash of police procedural, gothic horror story, and Keystone Kops comedy, this book has something in common with William Marshall’s little-known “Yellowthread Street” series (1975–98). VERDICT This is the 16th entry (after The Dance of the Seagull) in Camilleri’s series featuring Montalbano. It’s one of the best.
Carlotto, Massimo. At the End of a Dull Day. Europa. (World Noir). 2013. 192p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9781609451141. pap. $16. M
Giorgio Pellegrino (the protagonist of The Goodbye Kiss) is an honest man now—or at least as honest as someone with his background can be. For 11 years, he has turned his back on his old career as a terrorist and criminal, but now his “honest” life unravels. Giorgio isn’t a nice man—he’s ruthless and hard, not at all likable—but it’s fun to see how he gets out of this jam. He has no regrets about what he does as long as it works. In the course of this brutal noir thriller, which includes rape, bribery, threats, pimping, and murder, almost everyone is tainted in some way. VERDICT Richard Stark’s Parker might have looked like Giorgio if he’d grown up in a country like Italy. Hard stuff but good.
Carofiglio, Gianrico. The Silence of the Wave. Rizzoli ExLibris. 2013. 304p. tr. from Italian by Howard Curtis. ISBN 9780847841257. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780847841394. M
This superb book from the “Italian John Grisham” (A Walk in the Dark; Reasonable Doubts; Temporary Perfections) is almost not a mystery thriller at all, though there is a genuine, but small, mystery solved in it. Rather, it’s a novel of character, rich in compassion for its flawed, deeply troubled protagonists. One is a former undercover narc who can no longer come to terms with the lies he has lived. The other is a young mother who blames herself for the death of her child’s father. The detective and the woman meet outside the office building of the psychiatrist they both see. Over the course of this sweet work, they reach an accommodation of sorts with their own failings. VERDICT This is a superior title, warm and human, that should appeal widely.
de Giovanni, Maurizio. Blood Curse: The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi. Europa. (World Noir) 2013. 342p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9781609451134. pap. $17. M
Commissario Ricciardi, first introduced in I Will Have Vengeance, sees the dead. They talk to him and tell him their thoughts. Ricciardi’s “gift” helps solve crimes, but it isolates him from his colleagues. He can’t burden them with the horror he sees around him every day. Besides, they’d think Ricciardi was crazy. A premise like this could make this novel unreal, but it doesn’t. It’s a well-crafted, ultimately moving crime novel set in 1931 Naples. When an old woman is battered to death, Ricciardi meets all sorts of characters in his search for a killer and a motive. Most of them see him, and the police, as their enemy. VERDICT This is a solid series with an intriguing detective, and fans will eagerly await the third volume, Everyone in Their Place: The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi, to be published in November.
de Giovanni, Maurizio. The Crocodile. Europa. (World Noir). 2013. 226p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9781609451196. pap. $17. M
An unknown killer assassinates three young people in Naples. There is no apparent connection among them, but at the site of each murder a paper tissue is found with the murderer’s tears on it. The newspapers dub the unknown killer “the Crocodile” because he sheds false tears over his victim and, like the beast, waits silently for his victim to appear before he pounces. The man assigned to catch him, Insp. Giuseppe Lojacono, is a disgraced detective. Wrongfully accused of collusion with the Mafia, he has lost his career and his family. The papers suspect that these are mob killings, but Lojacono thinks otherwise. This is his chance to redeem himself. VERDICT Another quality noir thriller from Europa.
Fitzgerald, Conor. The Memory Key: A Commissario Alec Blume Novel. Bloomsbury USA. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781620401118. $25. M
A woman is shot dead in Rome. The crime is linked to a terrorist bombing two decades earlier. In his fourth outing (after The Namesake), Commissario Alec Blume of the Polizia de Stato hasn’t been officially assigned to the investigation—it’s the business of the Carabinieri (Italian military police), not the polizia—but he agrees to shadow it for a friend, a magistrate, to ensure the Carabinieri don’t bury the case. Around the working out of a complicated puzzle that involves politics, academics, and love, Fitzgerald inserts sly asides about life and people. One that will especially appeal to any librarian is this: asked what Blume has on his lap at a meeting, he says that it’s a Kindle, “a sort of unfriendly book.” VERDICT A solid mystery with appealing characters.
Nabb, Magdalen. The Monster of Florence. Soho Crime. Oct. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781616953249. $25. M
First published in 1996 but never released in the United States until now, Nabb’s tenth of 14 novels featuring Marshal Guarnaccia of the Carabinieri is based on actual crimes that rocked Italy from 1968 to 1985. A killer has terrorized Florence over two decades, assaulting lovers in their cars, murdering them, and mutilating the women’s bodies. He’s never been apprehended. Now a publicity-happy prosecutor sees the chance to hang these crimes on an ex-convict whose past offenses are so vile that no one will feel sympathy for him when he’s charged. Guarnaccia smells a rat and sets about destroying the prosecutor’s case. This complicated mystery isn’t easy to follow, but tension builds, and Guarnaccia is an appealing character. VERDICT This series was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, so fans who mourned the author’s death in 2007 will want this mystery. [For a nonfiction account of this case, see Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi’s The Monster of Florence.—Ed.]
Scerbanenco, Giorgio. Betrayal. Hersilia. Dec. 2013. 256p. tr. from Italian by Howard Curtis. ISBN 9780957480605. pap. $14.95. M
Scerbanenco’s (d. 1969) dark, moody novels have much in common with the darkest of Scandinavian crime fiction—say, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Stieg Larsson, or Jens Lapidus’s Stockholm noir series. Duca Lamberti (A Private Venus) lost his license to practice as a doctor and served time in jail. He earns his living now as a police informer and part-time detective. A woman comes to Duca for an illegal operation and soon after is brutally murdered. Thus starts a deluge of lies, betrayals, and killings that point back 20 years to the German occupation of Italy. Looking at the mutilated body of a butcher who’s been torn apart with his own tools, Duca muses, “Is a wolf a misfit?” Perhaps some of us can never be tamed. VERDICT This forgotten noir classic from 1966 is finally available in translation. That’s good news!
ONE MORE PUZZLER
Costantini, Roberto. The Deliverance of Evil. Quercus. Feb. 2014. 576p. tr. from Italian by N.S. Thompson. ISBN 9781623650025. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781623650032. F
May 1982. Italy has just won the World Cup. During the night of celebration, a young woman, the niece of the powerful Cardinal Alessandrini and neighbor to a monarchist senator, is murdered. The police captain in charge of the investigation, Michele Balistreri, is a brash womanizer who botches the case. Twenty-four years later, with Italy again on the brink of a World Cup victory, someone with ties to the victim has begun killing young women, marking each with a different letter of the alphabet. An older, chastened Balistreri leads his team of deputies as they try to solve a case that results in the deaths of nearly a dozen individuals and entwines Italian politics—particularly the issue of immigration—with human failings, especially the desire for vengeance. VERDICT A strong start, with an absorbing depiction of the arrogant Balistreri, leads by midpoint to a less than engaging muddle with far too many pawns on the board. Near the end, the disparate threads begin to take shape as a spider’s web, but by then many readers may have abandoned the book. This first entry in a projected trilogy is recommended for those who don’t mind keeping a chart of characters and who enjoy elaborate puzzles. [With a 150,000-copy first printing.]
David Keymer, a retired professor and administrator, has reviewed for LJ since 1981