Blood Sisters – Alessandro Perissinotto

Title – Blood Sisters

Author – Alessandro Perissinotto (translated by Howard Curtis)

Published – 2011 (UK)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the English translation of a title originally published in 2006. Thanks to @hersilia_press for the review copy.

The book is narrated by Anna Pavesi, she’s in her late thirties, recently single and living in an apartment she shares with her cat.  The book opens to a gripping scene as in the middle of the night Anna is struggling to dig through the ground on the outskirts of an industrial park to uncover a dead body. From there it shifts from the present tense to the past as she recalls the circumstances that brought about her current situation. There are further snippets from the present peppered through the book, reminding you of the (almost) ultimate outcome of the story.

Anna is a psychologist by profession but suffering some recent financial difficulties she agrees to help investigate the mysterious disappearance of the body of a young woman who died in a road accident. The incident happened in a small town on the outskirts of Milan, which Anna finds is a seedy area that seems to be perpetually shrouded in fog and has a good number of prostitutes plying their trade at the roadside.

Surprisingly for Italian crme fiction this lacks a high body count or even much in the way of violence of any sort. The story is slow to develop and the fog of the plain outside Milan seems to be echoed in the sordid goings on that Anna uncovers.

The brighter part of the story is Anna’s home in Bergamo and the flavour of this is more traditionally Italian. Anna herself seems to be dealing with her situation with a fair amount of equanimity but to the reader her single suppers shared with her cat and her various sexual exploits make her seem quite a sad character. Nevertheless she has a lot of determination and sticks with her investigation both when her employer seems to loose interest and when it appears that the outcome may have serious personal consequences.

You can read another review over at Crime Scraps Review.

Score – 3/5

The Whisperer – Donato Carrisi

Title – The Whisperer

Author – Donato Carrisi (translated by Shaun Whiteside)

Published – 2009 (translated 2010)

Genre – Crime fiction

I treated myself to this book a while ago when I felt I needed to read more gritty Italian crime fiction.

The severed left arms of 6 young girls are found in a forest clearing. Five little girls have been kidnapped over the course of a week. But there are six arms…

The investigation is being led by criminologist Dr Goran Gavila – to say that he is troubled would be an understatement! Assigned, begrudgingly, to assist him is Mila Vasquez, an expert in finding missing children. Mila is herself a dark character with some uncomfortable personal traits.

I found it hard not to draw comparisons between Mila Vasquez and Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s novels, and for me Salander would come out as the more likeable character.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading Italian crime fiction is for the setting – it doesn’t matter to me that there may be dirty deeds – as long as there’s some Italian scenery to absorb. So my first disappointment with this book has to be that it wasn’t set anywhere. Sorry  – that probably doesn’t make sense. The setting was placeless, not really specific to anywhere, any country, which left me feeling a little lost (as well as disappointed).

This is described as “Italian Literary Fiction” and I can only assume that this is because of the large sections of seemingly unnecessary prose.

I happened to meet some fellow bloggers while I was reading this and did say that I couldn’t recommend it, but there were twists and turns that were yet to come that perhaps would make me re-think this statement. I did enjoy the murder-mystery element of the book (although there were some unpleasant aspects to it) but couldn’t warm to the investigators and felt the whole book lacked any atmosphere.

You can see more thoughts about this book over at Farm Lane Books.

Score – 3/5

In A Heartbeat – Sandrone Dazieri

Title – In A Heartbeat

Author – Sandrone Dazieri (translated by A. Turner Mojica)

Published – Dec 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the English translation of a title originally published in 2006. Thanks to @hersilia_press for the review copy.

Santo Trafficante is a drug-user, a dealer and a thief.  Hit over the head with a whisky bottle he’s knocked unconscious in the 1990’s and comes round on the floor of the men’s toilets in Teatro Della Scala in 2005 – 14 years later. Aliens, time travel? Santo has no idea – but imagine ageing 14 years overnight! Shocked at the sudden and unexplained change Santo is not surprisingly upset (perhaps an understatement) as well as frightened. It quickly becomes clear that somewhere in his past he has undergone something of a change of direction as he is now a lot more respectable – in fact a wealthy Ad Executive with a few tastes that he didn’t have in the ’90s. Suddenly this clean-living Santo is replaced by the more uncouth one that was last seen in the previous century – much to the surprise of those around him!

Still battling to come to terms with whatever it is that has happened to him, Santo finds himself a suspect in the murder of his boss. Questioned by the police he can’t remember anything during the last 14 years, so being asked for his whereabouts just a few days ago presents quite a lot of problems. Santo sets out to discover what happened to him as well as trying to evade the police and determine if he is a murderer.

This was an intriguing take on a murder mystery. Using the first person works well to tell this story – leaving the reader as puzzled as Santo. The reader is faced with a whole host of mysteries – what happened to Santo to turn him from druggie to Ad Exec? did he commit the murder? it’s not as if he has any of the answers. And who is Santo – is he the brash, crude, violent twenty-something or the forty-year-old overweight, tee-total Christian? A particularly fascinating aspect were all the things that were new to Santo – mobile phones, G8, Al-Qaeda, webpage, Google…

Although an example of “hard-boiled” crime fiction the book has it’s far share of humour. The writing style is very easy to read and there’s nothing about the language that shouts “translation” at the reader. Probably one of my fastest reads this year. If you’ve read other books recently that deal with memory or rather the loss of it, then you really should give this a read – by far the best example I’ve come across and the crime fiction aspects certainly don’t suffer at the expense of this.

You can read another review over at Killing Time.

Score – 4/5

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

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