Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

dimitriosOne of the books I read during the last few weeks of 2015 was The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler which was originally published in 1939. It was the third or fourth time I had read this masterpiece, and because it was about a decade since my previous reading I noticed some interesting features in the novel. There is a blurb on the front cover ‘The source on which we all draw” by John le Carre, and it appeared to me that many of the techniques used by Ambler have been taken up by so many crime writers especially the Swedish school.

The Mask of Dimitrios is the story of how an English crime novelist Charles Latimer becomes fascinated, almost obsessed, by the story of  master criminal Dimitrios, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus. Latimer retraces Dimitrios’s steps across Europe hoping to gain material for a new book. The simplicity of this plot device is quite brilliant as it allows the author to include passages about the history of the various locations.

Unable to destroy the Turkish army, the Greeks turned with frantic savagery to the business of destroying the Turkish population in the path of their flight……………….Assisted by the few half-crazed Anatolian peasants who had survived, they took their revenge on the Greeks they were able to overtake……….

But the main Greek army had escaped by sea…… the Turks swept on. On the ninth of September 1922, they occupied Smyrna.

For a fortnight, refugees from the oncoming Turks had been pouring into the city to swell the already large Greek and Armenian populations. They had thought that the Greek army would turn and defend Smyrna. But the Greek army had fled. Now they were caught in a trap. The holocaust began.

We have to remember that this was published in 1939. The destruction of Smyrna, a multicultural community, was a sad prediction of what was to happen to so many communities in Europe between 1939-1945, and what is happening to many in the Middle East today. 

The assassination of politicians arranged by corrupt banks, spies, murders and the activities of criminal drug distributing organisations are contained in a narrative that packs more events and details in a mere 226 pages than many of today’s heavy 600 page doorstops. The very detailed slow paced descriptions of how master spy Grodek, and Dimitrios, while working for Italy entrap a Yugoslav civil servant into getting hold of top secret information, and the activities of Dimitrios’s drug gang in Paris, are almost a blueprint for this detailed approach in later novels for example those by le Carre and Stieg Larsson. 

Any discussion of this novel without mentioning the enigmatic loquacious Mr Peters would be unacceptable. He is one of the great characters of spy/crime fiction, and when a movie of the book was made his part was taken by the portly Sydney Greenstreet. Greenstreet had starred in The Maltese Falcon, as the villainous Gutman, and was an fine choice. He had been accompanied in that movie by Peter Lorre, they made an excellent combination. But someone thought he should play opposite Greenstreet in The Mask of Dimitrios, and so Charles Lambert was changed into Cornelius Leyden to explain Lorre’s central European accent. I thought Peter Lorre was miscast as he was too good a villain to play the hero. But Sydney Greenstreet was the quintessential Mr Peters…..

The fat man spread out large, soft hands on one of which twinkled a rather grubby diamond ring. ‘I am a citizen of the world,’ he said. “To me, all countries, all languages are beautiful. If only men could live as brothers, without hatred, seeing only the beautiful things. But no! There are always Communists, etcetera. It is, no doubt the Great One’s will.”

There is a brooding almosphere of corrupt evil that permeates the narrative, because we are as it states in the introduction in a Europe that is a jungle and its rules set by the Stock Exchange Year Book and Mein Kampf.

Ambler succeeds brilliantly in informing a population that had been fed a diet of cosy country house murders, and village green cricket matches, about the harsh realities of life across the Channel. 

Almost as Ambler finished the book the Nazis marched into Prague in the spring of 1939.     


carlottoGang of Lovers is a taut sharply written shortish novel which is a good example of Italian hard boiled noir. Marco Buratti, aka The Alligator, and his associates, Max the Memory and Beniamino Rossini have been traumatised by the events of a long gang war against new style criminals, people with no honour or standards. 

The modern world, in that sector, was by then all mafia: multinational, a cross section of every and all kinds of corrupt institutional power. Corrupt and toxic.

When enriching yourself illegally means poisoning people and the places they live, devising latter-day slave trades, and working hand in glove with politicians, businessmen, and moguls of high finance, then free men with a conscience decide it’s time to leave the party.

When Oriana Pozzi Vitali, an elegant wealthy Swiss lady asks for help in finding out the fate of her lover, who was kidnapped, Marco after a lot of hesitation takes the case. Oriana had failed to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers and as a result her Guido had disappeared.

It was usually a missing person. Maybe her daughter had run off with a stable boy, or her husband had run off with the cook. As I stubbed out my cigarette I mused on the fact that once upon a time, nobody would have dreamed of running away with a cook, male or female.

Times have changed. These days, chefs were stars and had opinions about everything.

Before long, we’d have a chef running the country. 


The story is told from the three different perspectives of Marco Buratti, a cop called Campagna, and the villain of the story Giorgio Pelligrini, an amoral brilliant criminal with a “talent” for exploiting and abusing women. The narrative contains accounts of eating in numerous restaurants, and discussions about food, as well as murder and mayhem. The dialogue is sometimes brutally cynical as Marco, and Giorgio indulge in an addictive game of cat and mouse.

It is a fact that most crime fiction is read by women, and I wonder what they make of  the character of Giorgio Pellegrini, a man who totally dominates his women. 

Sweat was streamming down her body, her hair was matted to her head. Complete physical collapse was imminent. I helped her off the bike and laid her down on the wall-to-wall carpeting. I ripped off her panties and yanked open her legs.

Martina welcomed me gratefully.

Gang of Lovers is Italian “hard boiled” noir but with the shell left on. 

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.  

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.  

Well for once the postie didn’t ring our bell today. He probably thought his delivery time was too early in the morning for retired old age pensioners, but he did leave two very nice parcels on our doorstep. 

cc2Well timed as I had just finished this morning reading A Colder War by Charles Cumming. I had made slower progress with this exciting spy drama, number two in the series featuring disgraced agent Thomas Kell and his former boss the glamorous Amelia Levene, simply because of the wonderful early spring weather we have been having on the English

When MI6’s top man in Turkey is killed in a plane crash Kell is called back again to track down a possible mole. After a suitably slow start, with Kell mixing work and pleasure [no spoilers], the action and the trade craft becomes fast and furious as Kell journeys from Ankara, and Istanbul, to London and Odessa to track down the mole. An excellent read with an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series. I am usually not keen on endings that leave the reader wondering what happens next, but this is cleverly done and probably more authentic than a nice cosy finish. My copy had bonus content including the author’s interesting essay on The Changing Face of Spy Fiction, making A Colder War a very good read. 

But what was in those two parcels?

ricciardizagrebIn the first was thanks to Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions a copy of Maurizio De Giovanni’s new Commissario Ricciardi novel Viper. I have read and reviewed the first three books in this fine series, but the next two sit unread on my shelf. But I have now promised myself that I will read Viper first, and catch up with the others at a later date.

Karen from Euro Crime knowing that I have read all of the previous nine Bernie Gunther thrillers very kindly arranged for the folks at Quercus to send me an uncorrected proof of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr, the tenth book in the series. 

Now I don’t mind if it rains, my reading for the rest of February is planned out.   

17-john-le-carre-books-blog480As I commented earlier as I am reading some hefty non-crime fiction books alongside my usual crime fiction diet I will only be making the briefest comments on the books I read, unless there is something particularly interesting to note.

Since my last review I have read:

Entry Island: Peter May:- Neither of the two plot strands in this long book were particularly original, but the descriptive writing was excellent. The historical back story set in 19th century Scotland was exceptionally good, and a little bit superior to the modern day story set on Entry Island off the coast of Canada. 

Duet in Beirut: Mishka Ben-David translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg:- After a failed mission in Beirut agent Ronen is dismissed from Mossad, and when his former commander Gadi discovers he has gone to Beirut to redeem himself he follows to prevent another disaster. There is some discussion about the morality of targeted assassinations that inevitably lead to tit-for-tat killings, and a lot about the interpersonal relationships between the characters, a situation that is complicated by Ronen’s wife having been Gadi’s lover in the past. A good read with much more about planning an operation rather than the actual action.

The Golden Egg: Donna Leon:- The Guido Brunetti books are usually enjoyable, and his close family life with Paola and the children make such a interesting contrast to that of so many other detectives. But this was such a miserable slow paced story that even a devoted Donna Leon fan was struggling at times. 

From Eden To Exile: Eric H. Cline:- The author discusses the archaeological evidence that might explain some biblical mysteries. An interesting read although no easy answers were found.

This Dark Road To Mercy: Wiley Cash:- A gripping story told from several perspectives set mostly in the author’s home state of North Carolina. This book deservedly won the 2014 CWA Gold Dagger.

A Mad Catastrophe: Geoffrey Wawro:- One of many books published in 2014 on the centenary  of the outbreak of the Great War. This long book deals with the disastrous conduct of the war by Austria-Hungary in 1914 on both the Serbian and Russian Fronts. Full of unpleasant details of ludicrous offensives that lead to horrendous losses, and the ultimate fall of the Hapsburg and Romanov dynasties. With a few exceptions most Great War Generals seem to have been out horse riding, playing polo, or chasing women when their military schools covered the tactical lessons of the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and the Russo-Japanese War. The Great War was a dreadful tragedy that cast a long dark shadow over the last century, and we are still living with the results today.

I also tackled two very different spy thrillers A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre, and A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming [winner of the 2012 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger] which was my favourite read in January. The contrast between these books was fascinating, and in some ways surprising as the veteran was surpassed by the comparative newcomer.

I haven’t read John le Carre since The Looking Glass War [1964] back in 2010, a novel nowhere near as good as the Karla trilogy, or Theforeign country Constant Gardener. Since then I have re-watched the TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and seen the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman, and am now watching the TV version of Smiley’s People with the brilliant Alec Guinness. The amusing thing about The Looking Glass War was that the three sections were introduced by quotations from Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan and Rupert Brooke,  a choice hardly representative of  le Carre’s political stance today.

The problem with A Wanted Man is that the narrative is so turgid, and lacks the subtlety of the Karla trilogy and many of the earlier books. I read a ranking of le Carre’s novels somewhere on the internet that puts A Most Wanted Man at 20 out of 22.

I think this book could have been so much better. The author hints that the “most wanted man” Issa Karpov, a Chechen who has been tortured by the Russians,  might not be everything he seems, and there might be a clever twist to the story; but unfortunately there isn’t and the ending is both predictable, and abrupt. What was most disappointing was that most of the characters seemed more like walking political statements than real human beings. I will be extremely interested to see what the movie starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as German intelligence agent Gunther Bachman makes of the book. 

Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country also begins slowly, but it has plenty of trade craft and action as it follows disgraced agent Thomas Kell as he attempts to track down the missing newly appointed head of MI6, Amelia Levene. This is more nuanced novel with some intriguing little twists in the plot, and a very exciting ending. This was a book  that definitely deserved the award of the 2012 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. I enjoyed it so much that I am now reading the sequel A Colder War, which also features Thomas Kell.   

Von Bora 3A Dark Song of Blood by Ben Pastor [Maria Verbena Volpi] is grown up crime fiction, a fine book that raises difficult moral questions concerning loyalty to one’s country, a cause and the church.

The third book in the Major Martin Bora series finds the anguished war wounded officer in Rome during that period in 1944, when the Allies were battering the German defences round Monte Cassino, and shortly after the start of the book have landed at Anzio. It has been said that the Second World War was simple you shot everything in front off you. The situation in Rome is much more complex for the anti-Nazi Martin Bora. He mixes with the upper echelons of Italian society, and the Vatican hierarchy, but has to watch his back as Italian Fascists, German SS, Gestapo, the Resistance, and the Wehrmacht are all struggling for a fleeting advantage in a rapidly deteriorating situation. DSC00301

Martin Bora and Italian policeman Sandro Guidi must investigate the suspected murder of  Magda Reiner, a German Embassy secretary, who has “accidentally” fallen from a fourth floor window to her death. Magda has had several lovers, and one of them Merlo is Secretary General of the National Union of Fascists. Dr Caruso the head of Rome’s police tells Guidi……

“Keep looking into the dossier, there’s plenty about His Excellency’s goings-on. The Germans want his neck so prove he killed her.”

When Bora’s elderly university teacher now a cardinal is found with a Roman society lady in a compromising position, both shot dead, he has to examine his conscience and face the corruption all around him and investigate two more murders. 

DSC00297As well as the relationship between the Third Reich and the Vatican, the fate of Rome’s Jews, and the civil war in Italy, A Dark Song of Blood also deals with the less serious subjects of Sandro Guidi’s lust for the mysterious and pregnant Francesca, Bora’s rocky marriage to the ice queen Benedikta and his obsession with the glamorous Mrs Murphy. 

“Sometimes you leave people to set them free, as I did with your stepfather. Of course it was impossible, in our position, to stay married after Sarajevo started the Great War. It worked out for the best. He found your mother and married her happily, and I fell in love with D’Annunzio.”

A Dark Song of Blood is one of the best books I have read this year, cleverly blending real life events and characters, such as Field Marshall Kesselring, in with the fictional narrative producing a work that is both a mystery and a worthy historical record.

Ben Pastor was born in Italy but lived for thirty years in the United States working as a university professor in Vermont. 

My review of Lumen at Euro Crime. 

My review of Liar Moon at Euro Crime.


The good news is that the next Martin Bora novel Tin Sky is due out in April next year.





A short pleasant read ideal for a summer afternoon.

This is the second book in the Bar Lume series where we are once again introduced to barman Massimo Viviani, and the four elderly patrons of his bar. The small coastal town of Pineta near Pisa in Northern Italy comes alive as an international conference arrives. Massimo is the caterer  and when one of the delegates a Japanese professor named Asahara is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Massimo becomes once again an amateur detective.

The plot is nice and simple; Aldo, Ampelio, Del Tacca, Rimediotti, the elderly patrons are irascible, Tiziana the barmaid is beautiful, the policeman Fusco is useless, and Massimo is constantly amusing as he solves the crime.

Remarkable, Massimo thought. A man who looked about a hundred and six and could barely keep awake was, according to the doctors , in the peak of condition. What constitutions the Japanese have. Obviously sushi, green, tea and puffer fish keep you fit  even if you lead a crap life. Getting up in the morning, the subway, the work., the bowing…..

Three-Card Monte may be lightweight, but it is full of fun, and the charm of the series is in the interactions between the cast of  characters in a small provincial town, where sometimes the monotony is broken by a “nice murder”.

Whoever is toughest wins. 

History is full of such episodes. Think for example , of Caesar and Anthony. Think of Churchill and Stalin. Think of Zidane and Materazzi. 

An example of the author’s wit and also  placing this story very firmly in Italy where football is rather important. [The reference is to the World Cup Final 2006 Italy versus France]

I particularly liked this passage among  the dedications at the end: 

Ampelio is a fairly faithful portrait of my grandfather Varisello, who spent ninety-three years commenting on everything he didn’t like about the world ( and that included a lot).   

My review of Game for Five  the first book in the Bar Lume series.     

51wV+VzQqbL._February 1987. Filippo a petty criminal escapes along with his cellmate Carlo, a Red Brigade activist, from an Italian prison through the rubbish shute. They separate when Carlo goes off with some associates, and as Filippo makes his way north he reads in a newspaper that Carlo has been killed during an attempted bank robbery in Milan.

Fillipo goes to Paris where he meets up with Lisa Biaggi, Carlo’s girlfriend, whose address he has been given. Fillipo is given an apartment to rent owned by Lisa’s friend Cristina, and he gets a job as a night security guard. 

The time for tears is over. He dreams of conquering the two women, the way you conquer a land, for the pleasure of conquering, and then leaving for pastures new.

Fillipo partly to impress these two women, who respect politicos like Carlo, but look down their pretty noses at him, writes a novel inspired by the words and stories related by Carlo, while they were in prison. The narrative tells the story of the jail break, but he embellishes the subsequent events giving his character a key part in the bank robbery. The novel is a stunning success, and while Lisa rages at the situation trying to prove Carlo was lead into a trap, Filippo becomes the darling of the Italian diaspora and the intellectual elite in Paris. But he is in danger because the police, the security services and even his publishers begin to believe his mostly fictional novel is a true account of events.

Like most of Dominique Manotti’s books Escape is short, 160 pages, hard hitting and very thought provoking.  I would suggest that the gulf between the intellectual activists and the real working class is sharply drawn in this story. Most revolutionary movements are started by red wine radicals, and France and Italy are no different. Real working people are usually too busy.

Escape is an original novel about the dangers of writing a novel, and while not Manotti’s best work certainly well worth the read. You will learn something about the terrible traumas Italy suffered during the ‘Years of Lead’ as the Red Brigades, Fascists and Mafias battled for control of the country.

Filippo is ashen, he feels mounting panic. He stares at the floor. Adele continues undaunted: ‘Let me be clear. If you’re possibly a cop-killer, that makes you an attractive young hoodlum. But if you are a declared cop-killer and proud of it, then you become a criminal no one wants to be associated with. It’s a delicate balance.    

Everyone In Their Place, subtitled The Summer Of Commissario Ricciardi, is the third volume in author Maurizio De Giovanni’s historical series, following on 51PgXyPu1LL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_from I Will Have Vengeance [The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi] and Blood Curse [The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi]

It is August 23, 1931.

Year Nine. Of the New Era. The era of black ribbons on hats and high black boots, the era of full page newspaper photographs of men in shirtsleeves, guiding a plow. The era of enthusiasm and optimism. The era of law and order and clean cities, by government decree.

But Commissario Ricciardi, the man cursed by seeing and hearing the final seconds of life of those who meet a violent death, still has to investigate the brutal crimes that occur despite government decree. Ricciardi, and his trusty subordinate Brigadier Maione, are instructed to investigate the brutal shooting of the beautiful Duchess di Camparino. The Duchess has a much older invalid husband and a stepson Ettore, who spends his time looking after plants and has his own secrets. The old dying Duke is looked after by a housekeeper, Concettta, who supervises the  servants, the Sciarras, man and wife, who live in the palazzo with their young children. When Ricciardi discovers that the Duchess had a vibrant nature, and at least one infatuated lover the investigation becomes even more complex, with the Commissario having to tread very carefully to avoid alienating the local power hierarchy. 

Everyone In Their Place is a brilliant example of noir that drifts pleasingly into black comedy at times. A delicious blend of murder, love affairs, commentary on Mussolini-balcony-Palazzo-Veneziaworking in a totalitarian state with terrible poverty existing alongside ostentatious wealth; and with that green-eyed monster jealousy playing a large part, this is the best book of the trilogy so far.

The relationship that has failed to reach even a sub-platonic level between the “very secret lovers” Ricciardi and Enrica Columbo takes a difficult turn as Enrica’s mother encourages her to meet the unprepossessing Sebastiano, who lives off his wealthy parents. Ricciardi sees Enrica with Sebastiano, and Enrica sees Ricciardi with the beautiful elegant Livia, the widow of opera singer Arnaldo Vezzi, who was murdered in an earlier book. Livia has come back to Naples to seduce the shy Commissario. Enrica and Ricciardi are both heartbroken.

Meanwhile Raffaele Maione, all 265lbs of him, is on a strict diet. His wife Lucia has been flirting with Ciruzzo, a fruit vendor and Maione has the idea that the thinner man might take his beloved from him. All these misunderstandings, with interventions from the sycophantic and useless Deputy Chief of Police Angelo Garzo, and the boldly anti-Fascist Doctor Modo go along way to create a story that at times resembles Italian comic opera, but it is never far from the harsh brutal reality of life, violence and murder in Mussolini’s Italy.

A superb beautifully written crime thriller with a cast of memorable characters, it should definitely be a strong contender for the International Dagger and the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.