Month: February 2012

I Will Have Vengeance – Maurizio de Giovanni

Title – I Will Have Vengeance

Author – Maurizio de Giovanni (translated by Anne Milano Appel)

Published – Feb 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the first English translation of a novel by Maurizio de Giovanni, an award-winning Italian crime fiction author.

The setting is Naples, 1937, a fascist Italy under Mussolini (Il Duce) and the evocative descriptions by de Giovanni show a country being divided by politics into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Although the book isn’t overly heavy on the period detail there is enough to demonstrate the hardships being felt by many. It’s the small details which give the sense of the era, for example a detective who wears a hairnet to bed.

Our investigator is Commissario Ricciardi, who follows in the tradition of much crime fiction by being “troubled”, however his problem is quite unusual. To (mis) quote M. Night Shyamalan “he sees dead people”. As a boy he discovered that he sometimes sees the dead. Just those who have died violently, and what he sees captures their last expression and their final words. This “ability” makes Ricciardi a solemn and determined man with few friends, but also means that he has an uncanny knack of solving murders. He cuts a solitary figure, both at home and at work, although he does show a softer side in his unspoken admiration of a neighbour.

The case he is called to investigate is the brutal murder of one of the world’s greatest tenors, Maestro Vezzi, who has been found dead in his dressing room moments before he was due to perform. Unfortunately for Ricciardi, Vezzi is a favourite of Il Duce, and there is pressure from the Vice Questura to find a quick resolution.

Ricciardi and his assistant, Brigadier Maione, have to untangle the puzzle of how Vezzi was murdered and who could have entered his dressing room to perpetrate the crime in the middle of a performance. In the course of the investigation they discover that Vezzi was almost universally disliked, but they still struggle to find anyone who would have killed him. In order to better understand the events Ricciardi has to lean more about the operas being performed, and as a non-opera person I found this aspect interesting.

The book is short compared to many published at the moment – which makes a pleasant change, and the pace feels unhurried, but never loses the reader’s interest. This is classic crime fiction with a simple puzzle at its heart, a sympathetic lead character, and something of a moral dilemma.

To me this feels similar to the series by Andrea Camilleri, although there’s a lot less eating involved. The subject is perhaps darker than Camilleri’s writing, but the perios Italian setting, the determination of the lead character for justice and the simplicity of the well-told murder-mystery is reminiscent of his style.

I hope that the rest of the series featuring Ricciardi is translated, as I very much look forward to reading more.

Score – 4/5

The Quarry – Johan Theorin

Title – The Quarry

Author – Johan Theorin (translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had a copy of this book (courtesy of @LynseyDalladay of Transworld) a number of people told me what a great book it was. I’m afraid this is another example of my opinion jarring with other people’s.

The story is set on the island of Öland, and a small community surrounding a disused quarry. Per Morner has inherited a small cabin on the edge of the quarry and hopes to spend time there with his teenage son and daughter, although his daughter is unwell and is currently in hospital on the mainland.

Eighty-three year old Gerlof Davidsson has moved out of the old people’s home he was living in to return to his family home near the quarry, convinced that he is going home to die. He discovers his late wife’s diaries, dating from the 1950’s,  and despite the feeling that he shouldn’t be reading them, he can’t help himself.

Vendela and Max Larsson have had a brand new summer house built on the edge of the quarry. Max is a self-help guru and is about to write a cookbook. Vendela grew up on the island and is returning for the first time in over 30 years.

Morner has been trying to keep his distance from his father, Jerry, but he receives a call from him which he can’t ignore. When he drives to the mainland to collect his father he discovers him injured in a house which has been set on fire. Morner takes his father back to the island and it becomes clear that part of the problem in their relationship is his father’s involvement in the porn industry.

The fire is just the first disaster to befall Jerry and eventually a death raises serious concerns for the safety of Per and his family. Slow progress by the police means that Per begins to investigate Jerry’s seedy past himself.

There is a second strand to the story following Vendela and her sometimes strained relationship with her husband. Vendela believes in, and relies on, the elves of the island and her conviction in their existence is helped by her odd eating habits. Her story is that of her past, growing up on the island and how she came to leave it.

I found the book really slow to get  going, and it was a struggle to persevere with it. I liked the characters of Per Morner and Gerlof Davidsson, but I found Vendela just plain weird. I guess that she was written as a character who had a troubled past, which left her disturbed, but I just wanted to give her a shake! This isn’t helped by her odd relationship with her husband, who seems to be a pretty unpleasant man.

The mystery is well written and intriguing, and the setting is dark and atmospheric, but the strange characters, trolls and elves outweighed the positives for me.

The blurb on the book (from the Observer) says “If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer”, but for me this doesn’t deliver.  

Score – 3/5

The Flight – M.R. Hall

Title – The Flight

Author – M.R. Hall

Published – Feb 2012

Genre – Thriller

I first came across M R Hall at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing last year. I was intrigued that someone who had been a barrister, then a screenwriter was now writing a series of novels featuring a coroner as the main character. This sounded like an author I should try and I was lucky to receive a review copy of his latest novel from Mantle.

In “The Flight” an Airbus A380 flight from London Heathrow to New York plunges into the Severn Estuary, on the border of Coroner Jenny Cooper’s jurisdiction. Whilst the majority of the wreckage and bodies become the responsibility of a neighbouring area, two are discovered on Cooper’s “patch” – a young girl wearing a life jacket and a fisherman. The Ministry of Justice appoints a retired High Court Judge to act as coroner for the crash victims, but Cooper is determined to retain control of the fisherman’s death.

As Cooper tries to unravel the circumstances which led to the fisherman’s death (and use that as a means to help the family of the dead girl) she is aided by a pilot of a private charter plane who had a friend on the Flight 189.  This seems to be a relationship which has the potential to become something more personal than professional.

The story is fascinating, if a little frightening for anyone who ever takes a flight! There’s quite a lot of technical information about the way the airlines work, approaches to safety issues and the computerised systems of these huge airliners. In some respects this made me think of Michael Crichton novels. I found the details of the huge operation put into place following the crash intriguing, and wonder how much of this is actually a reflection of what really would happen in such circumstances.

There are plenty of references to some of Cooper’s history from the previous books. She is obviously troubled by an incident from her childhood, which seems to be on its way to a resolution in this novel.  I certainly had no problem starting the series at book 4. She seems to be something of a maverick, and has a history of going against authority when she believes that justice isn’t being done. This case proves to be no different as she treads a fine line between doing her job and insubordination.

The only part of the story which didn’t ring true for me was the relationship between Cooper and her assistant, Alison Trent, which becomes increasingly strained during the course of the book. I had assumed that Trent was a stroppy young woman, so was surprised to realise late on that her character was actually older than Cooper.

I don’t know much about the role of the Coroner in the British justice system, although I do know that there have been extreme cases where they have made the news for their stance, so I would be interested to know how realistic Hall’s portrayal is.

This was a fascinating read, perhaps a little slow in places and there was a lot of technical detail to take in, especially in the final few pages of the book. Despite that my attention never wavered and I was gripped the whole way through. Cooper is a strong and likeable character who it was easy to root for. I will certainly be searching out some of the previous titles.

Score – 4/5