Archive for March, 2015

Viper is the sixth book in the Commissario Ricciardi series set in Fascist Italy during the 1930s, and this story takes place in Naples during the week before ricciardiEaster 1932.

Viper the most enticing and beautiful prostitute in Il Paradiso, Naples most famous brothel is found murdered. Commissario Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione are sent to investigate a case that has several possible suspects; Madame Yvonne the proprietor of the luxurious establishment, Lily- Bianca Palumbo, a jealous rival, and Viper’s only two clients who are dedicated to her in different ways. 

Vincenzo Ventrone the owner of a respectable business selling sacred art to the wealthy of Naples, has a staid conservative twenty year old son Augusto, who thinks his father’s trips to Il Paradiso are bringing shame and financial ruin to the business. 

Giussepe Coppola, a dealer in vegetables, who knew Viper back in her home village when she was simply Maria Rosaria Cennamo, and who had proposed marriage to the beauty. His brother, Pietro is upset at the prospect of Viper joining their family.

The investigation may be interesting, but it is the subplots and characters that make these books one of the best historical crime fiction series around. Firstly the conversations and political jokes between Ricciardi, Maione and pathologist Dr Bruno Modo sum up some of the difficulties of working in a non-democratic state, where a misplaced word or look can get you in deep trouble.

Secondly the love triangle between Ricciardi, a man terrified of love having seen the damage it can do, and the two women who desire him. Enrica, the shy bespectacled woman, who is being taught to cook by Rosa, Ricciardi’s tata, and the beautiful worldly widow Livia Lucani, who seemingly has all the advantages in this battle for the Commissario’s affections.

In this episode Dr Modo argues with fascist bullies, and later is taken away by members of the party to be sent into internal exile.

The idea that Benito Mussolini, because of his appearance was some kind of joke dictator is misplaced. His secret police were every bit as frightening as the Gestapo, and while Hitler had many of his closest associates murdered, Il Duce also executed his son-in-law, Count Ciano. 

On that occasion he’d understood that Fascism was a very complex phenomenon, and that the seemingly fanciful tales that circulated about OVRA-the notorious secret police agency that beat back all anti-Fascist activities, real or imagined with stealthy brutality- were, if anything, understating the case.

Viper is a very good addition to this excellent series, and because of the compelling atmosphere and the number of interesting personal relationships it is a great read.

For Lucia Maione, just like all the mothers in the city, Easter began with Carnival, forty-one days before; and therefore with preparations for the feast of Fat Tuesday, Mardi gras, a feast for which she was renowned throughout the quarter, if she did say so herself: his majesty the lasagne, the dish of kings, with ragu and meatballs; sausages and rapini, the fagatini nella rezza, pork livers cooked in a mesh made of pig’s intestines and laurel leaves, and most important of all, the sanguinaccio, a sweet blood pudding made of cocoa, milk, and pig’s blood garnished with candied citron, a treat that the children dreamed of all year.  

Here is the official Petrona Award Shortlist.

THE HUMMINGBIRD by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Arcadia Books; Finland)
THE HUNTING DOGS by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)
REYKJAVIK NIGHTS by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker; Iceland)
THE HUMAN FLIES by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle; Norway)
FALLING FREELY, AS IF IN A DREAM by Leif G W Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday; Sweden)
THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)

I am rather pleased I managed to pick two out of the six books as I had not read the other four, but any books by Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir are bound to be of a high quality. The summaries of the books [see here] by the authors unknown to me also sound very promising, and interested readers have several weeks to make their own judgement on the contenders before the winner is announced at Crime Fest in Bristol on 14-17 May. 

The shortlist for the 2015 Petrona Award, for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel published in English in 2014, will be announced on P1010564Thursday 26 March. This award is made in memory of my good friend Maxine Clarke, who tragically died in 2012 and was a tireless promoter of good Scandinavian crime fiction, and who provided both inspiration and encouragement  to so many bloggers.

I haven’t been reading as much Nordic crime fiction lately, but I did read several excellent novels last year that are eligible for the award. I would be very surprised if at least one of the following didn’t make that shortlist:

The Hunting Dogs: Jorn Lier Horst translator Anne Bruce

The G File Hakan Nesser translator Laurie Thompson

Borderline: Liza Marklund translator Neil Smith

Falling Freely As If In A Dream: Leif G.W.Persson translator Paul Norlen

The Second Deadly Sin: Asa Larsson translator Laurie Thompson

[photo of Maxine at Crime Fest with one of her favourite translators Don Bartlett]

Galveston: Nic Pizzolatto

Posted: March 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

galvestonI finished reading Arms And The Women by Reginald Hill, and Viper by Maurizio De Giovanni earlier this month. More on Viper next week, and then moved on to read Galveston by Nic Pizzolato [creator of the hit TV series True Detective]. I haven’t watched True Detective, because it is only on Sky Atlantic, not one of the 230 odd stations I have on my cable!

The novel was really very good despite the fact that the tough guy on the run tagging along with a much younger woman, and child/children is a repetitive theme in several American novels.

Galveston won the Prix du Premier Roman so I was expecting something better than average, and was not disappointed.

“Why’d you take the silencer off? I asked.

Rocky shrugged and followed something out the window. “I thought it looked meaner without it.”

I said, “You ever been to Galveston?” She shook her head.  

Roy Cady, who admits to being  a bad man, has had a past fling with the lover of his criminal boss. He hears from a doctor than he has terminal lung cancer, and then he and another of her ex-boyfriends is sent on a job, being specifically told not to take a gun he rightly suspects a trap. Emerging from a blood bath he teams up with attractive young blonde Raquel, known as Rocky, and goes on a road trip from New Orleans to Texas, having killed the three bad boys who were about to kill him. On the way they pick up Rocky’s “little sister” Tiffany. The first person narrative by Roy, sometimes jumps forward twenty years from 1987 to 2008, and the reader learns what happened in those intervening years. The reader’s mood, like Roy’s, will change from despair and pity to hope for the future as the story draws to a surprisingly pleasant conclusion for a noir novel.

I do have a weakness for Country Music, years ago there seemed to be little else on the radio when driving across the vast spaces of the American South West, so I chose some appropriate  accompanying music for reading this book. Galveston by Glen Campbell and one of my favourites Amarillo By Morning by George Strait. 

Amarillo was gas stations and storage units, low end strip clubs between motels, pounding winds. You could drive and drive but there would still be only the plains and the water towers and the small derricks bobbing up and down like seesaws.

[It does make a bit of a change from my usual Puccini and Verdi, which melodiously plays when I am reading Andrea Camilleri, or Maurizio De Giovanni.] 

” Look, though. It works both ways. Tomorrow you could get rich and fall in love.” I’d never believed that, but I tried to sound convincing.  

cc2zagrebricciardiarmsMy reading in February included A Colder War by Charles Cumming, a very good spy thriller, and The Lady From Zagreb, the tenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. My review of Philip Kerr’s  novel will appear on Euro Crime in due course. I also got about halfway through the excellent Viper by Maurizio De Giovanni, but we were going away for a few days and Viper’s cover includes an image of a dead prostitute sprawled over a bed.

I therefore decided to take  Arms and The Women [2000] by Reginald Hill to read at our luxurious bed and breakfast. This is a 611 page reg hillblockbuster, but a brilliant read, and I am now totally engrossed at page 237 by those quirky characters, Ellie Pascoe, Peter Pascoe, Andy Dalziel, Wieldy and Novello.

My reading over the last few years of Reginald Hill’s body of work has convinced me he is one of the greatest crime writers produced by this country since the war. I wonder if the failings of the later Dalziel and Pascoe television series have contributed to him not being rated as highly in some circles as some less deserving writers. That pesky WH Smith poll still really annoys me; Peter James 1, Val McDermid 3, Ian Rankin 4, Ruth Rendell 13, P.D.James 18, and Reginald Hill 48! 

Unfortunately once the television series lost Edgar Wield and Ellie Pascoe it never had that special quality retained in the novels. 

I haven’t read the Dalziel and Pascoe books in order, but when I started in 2010 to read them again after a long break I began with the  last in the series Midnight Fugue [2009], a pastiche of the TV series 24. In 2012 I read On Beulah Height [1998] and then went back to Deadheads [1983] and Underworld [1988]. I had a Dalziel and Pascoe addiction by now, and they became my holiday reading material of choice. In 2013 I read Bones and Silence [1990], Recalled to Life [1992], Pictures of Perfection [1994] , and The Wood Beyond [1995]. Last year I jumped forward, perhaps put off a little by the sheer bulk of some of the next books in the series, to The Death of Dalziel [2007] and A Cure for All Diseases [2008], a pastiche of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon. Reginald Hill did love his Jane Austen.

You would think you might become bored reading so many books by the same author with the same characters, but Reginald Hill alters his approach to each novel keep each book fresh, vital and full of humour. 

I will return to Viper, which is also a very good read, when I have finished Arms and the Women.