Month: August 2012

A Private Venus – Giorgio Scerbanenco

Title – A Private Venus

Author – Giorgio Scerbanenco (translated by Howard Curtis)

Published – Aug 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the first English translation of this Duca Lamberti novel from renowned Italian crime fiction author Giorgio Scerbanenco. Originally published in 1966 this was the first in the series.

Although born in Kiev with a Russian father and Italian mother, Scerbanenco grew up in Italy and when he was in his late teens his family settled in Milan. The book includes an introduction with some helpful background to the author & the setting of Milan in the late 1960’s. Unless you have personal experience of a place or time that book is set in it can be difficult to put the events into context. This is even more noticeable when the book was written at the time and the author had no need to provide any background!

The story feels very dark – it’s not surprising that Scerbanenco is seen as the father of Italian noir. The characters themselves are flawed – Duca Lamberti is just out of prison after serving three years for the murder of a patient. He is contacted by Engineer Pietro Auserolo, a humourless man who is trying to find someone to help cure his twenty-two year old son, Davide,  of alcoholism. His approach can be summed up in “I would rather he was dead than an alcoholic”. Despite this he obviously cares about his son & is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help him.

Lamberti accepts the job and after Auserolo makes the introductions he leaves the doctor and patient together. Lamberti believes that there must be a reason for Davide’s incessant drinking but he tries not to force the issue – taking the opposite approach to Davide’s father. Lamberti’s approach pays off quickly and he soon learns the reason that Davide feels driven to drink. Not only does he find out the full story that lead to Davide’s current situation, but he also finds what may be a clue to a young girl’s murder, and that’s when the story becomes even darker – with prostitution and pornography as well as murder.

To be honest it isn’t especially graphic, but the darkness of the story is unrelenting – no flashes of humour here to lighten the mood! In comparison to a lot of current crime fiction the details feel a little tame, but as a whole it makes grim reading. The only character who seems to have a brighter side is Livia, a girl who followed the proceedings of Lamberti’s trial and is something of a fan. But she has a dark background  – a fascination with the idea of prostitution, and although Lamberti is drawn to her, he treats her dreadfully, with quite gruesome consequences.

There are two aspects of the story that I found particularly difficult. Firstly, every woman, with the exception of Lamberti’s sister, is willing to prostitute herself. It feels more like the writer’s view of women than a statement about how women behaved in Milan at the time – but I’m no expert. The second is the writing surrounding one of the characters who is homosexual. For the most part the character is referred to as “the homosexual” when he’s not being called “the pederast” or “the mutant”. Uncomfortable reading and all I can say is that we’ve come along way!

I quite enjoyed the story and I would be interested to see if more titles are translated and how Lamberti’s character develops, but this wasn’t an easy read.  Many thanks to Hersilia Press for the review copy.

You can see more thoughts about this book over at Killing Time.

Score – 3/5

The Devil’s Cave – Martin Walker

51MmzurxOMLTitle – The Devil’s Cave

Author – Martin Walker

Published – August 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I have to apologise because the presence of the world’s largest sporting event on my doorstep seems to have interrupted my blogging. It started with a visit by the torch, then there was cycling through the nearby villages, and finally 24 channels of TV. It’s been hard to tear myself away, but in a few days it will all be gone & life will have to return to normal.

So attacking the pile of books which I should review ‘The Devil’s Cave’ by Martin Walker, sent by the kind folk at Quercus, is top of the stack. I have to confess that until I went to Crimefest I hadn’t heard of Martin, and even then, with all the new authors I was introduced to, he didn’t strike me as an author I needed to rush out and buy. How wrong I was!

The Devil’s Cave is the fifth  title in the Bruno Courrèges series – more commonly called “Bruno, Chief of Police”. Bruno lives and polices in a rural town in the Périgord region of France – which sounds idyllic and I could only visualise a sort of French “Midsomer”.  It’s also easy to draw parallels with another crime fiction series set in Continental Europe and featuring a food-loving policemen – Andrea Camilleri. Possibly describing the book as a cross between Midsomer Murders and Inspector Montalbano does it no favours though!

Coming in at the fifth book in a series does make you wonder if you will feel as if you’ve missed too much, or if there will be too much explanation of what’s gone before getting in the way of the current story. I think that by and large this struck the right balance, I knew enough to follow the story and characters, but not too much. Although there were one or two references to Bruno’s past which may spoil the earlier titles if I go back to them.

So what about the story? The book opens with the body of a naked woman in a boat drifting down the river and into the town. At first thought to be a suicide, the initial puzzle is to identify the dead woman. Rumours of Satanism abound and soon enterprising townsfolk are cashing in on the sudden increase in visitors to the town. While Bruno tries to work on the case he has to deal with the more mundane aspects of his job – a husband who has beaten his wife, and a Mayor who is keen to support a new development near the town. Bruno’s personal life is also interesting with several ladies featuring as well as a fair amount of cooking!

The mysteries at the heart of the story are well thought out and make for an interesting story, Bruno is an engaging character, and who could fail to be charmed by the French setting. The final showdown was quite complex, but also given a decent proportion of the book – not crammed into a few pages at the end. This was a real antidote to some of the darker crime fiction I’ve read recently.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Bruno, Chief of Police titles.

Score – 4/5