Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

delucatrilogy51+bu8dd1xL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I have recorded, but not had the time to watch, all four programs in the Inspector De Luca series, which has been showing on Saturday nights on BBC4.

My humble blog started in September 2006 and was switched from blogger to wordpress in July of 2011. It was jogging along with a small but highly intelligent readership with about 2,000 hits per month.

The hits recorded in the second half of 2011-17,491, in 2012-29,228, and in 2013-24,645……

In January this year 2,348 and February 1,842, and then on 16 March I posted about the upcoming Inspector De Luca series on BBC4.  There were only 118 hits that day but the next day 239, then 254-170-183-297 and on the Saturday 22 March the day the first episode was screened 2,518.

The following day there were 1,677 hits and while things have calmed down now there were a total of 10,077 hits in March and over 6,000 so far in April. This was deluca4simply because the post achieved a high position on Google third or fourth for a period of time; although I like to think the links to my reviews of the three books in the De Luca trilogy were a valuable resource for fans of Italian crime fiction.

I hope to review some more crime fiction set in Fascist and wartime Italy over the next few months as I have several books staring at me from the TBR shelf.  


51ohmdSj07L._Among the books I have been sent recently by Europa Editions UK was a thin book of 140 pages entitled Game For  Five: A Bar Lume Mystery by Marco Malvadi translated by Howard Curtis. The handy length and the recommendations on the front and back cover from Andrea Camilleri meant I moved it to the top of my reading list.

Do you have to be Italian to write extremely amusing novels about a tragic subject?

I suppose if in a mere hundred years you have had your army commanded by Luigi Cadorna, an advocate of decimation to encourage the troops, and then been ruled by Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi you develop an intriguing national sense of humour.

At the Bar Lume four old men sit playing cards, insulting each other, and the other  residents of Pineta, a small coastal town in Northern Italy. They argue and gossip with  Massimo the barman, and when a young woman is found dumped in a trash can they encourage him to take the role of amateur detective in the investigation. After all in Pineta sticking your nose in other people’s business was the national sport.

The plot is good with several suspects for the murder but it is the interaction and relationships between the younger Massimo and his elderly customers that makes this book such a brilliant read. The social commentary on the subtle incompetence of the Italian administrative system is neatly done. 

The name of the fourth man is Pilade Del Tacca. He has watched seventy-four springs glide pleasantly by and is happily overweight. Years of hard work at the town hall in Pineta, where if you don’t have breakfast four times a morning you’re nobody, has formed both his physique and his character; apart from being ill-mannered, he’s also a pain in the butt.

There are other well drawn characters including Tiziana, who…

possessed two perfect attributes for working in a bar. Firstly, she wasn’t clumsy. Secondly, she had beautiful breasts……..

There is also Fusco, the standard Italian incompetent local police chief, the elegant Arianna Costa the victim Alina’s mother, and an assorted selection of suspects for the murder.

I won’t spoil it by giving any more details because if you only read one translated crime fiction book this year make it Game For Five. 

Thank God I’ve got coffee. Who was it who invented coffee? He must be the cousin of the genius who invented the bed.

Nobel Prizes for both of them.

For them, and for the person who invented Nutella.    

italiangreatwar0101-28-~3 (2)06-21-~1 (2)lucarelliThe quality of many of the sub-titled crime/political series that BBC4 have shown in their Saturday night slot has been very high. Spiral [France], The Killing [Denmark], The Bridge [Sweden/Denmark], Borgen [Denmark], Montalbano and Young Montalbano [Italy] have set a high standard not least for the amount of interesting and very attractive female characters.

The sub-titled series that has just finished on Saturday was called Salamander. It was Belgian and despite some good camera work showing Brussels and the countryside, it could never quite get over the handicap of being Belgian. Poor Hercule Poirot must be spinning in his grave to discover his birth country was being run by a sleazy clique, whose solid financial foundations were started by stealing money sent by the British to Brussels. But enough about the EU. Salamander had an identity problem as the plot didn’t quite know whether it was meant to be a police procedural or political thriller with a back story set during WWII. And I would suggest the average British village bobby takes more precautions going into a pub on a Friday night, than apparently the Brussels police do when dealing with murderous conspirators.

I am not one of those who thinks that translated crime fiction and  sub-titled TV is somehow superior. In fact I am concerned that the insistence on publishing both second level crime novels and any old TV series simply because they are foreign and trendy is a grave mistake. British home grown TV can come up with outstanding crime fiction series such as the currently running Line of Duty on BBC2, and last year’s Mayday [BBC], Southcliffe [Channel4] and Broadchurch [ITV].  

But the new BBC4 sub-titled series starting next weekend is Inspector De Luca and I am fairly sure that if this series is anything like the books written by Carlo Lucarelli it will be dramatic and educational TV. The De Luca books are set in the period around the end of WWII, beginning when Italy was occupied in the South by the Allies and in the North by the Germans and their Italian Fascist allies. Benito Mussolini briefly ruling a German puppet state called the Republic of Salo before meeting a just end at the hands of Italian partisans.

I understand the TV series starts earlier in 1938 when Italian Fascism was still a major force in European politics. Incidentally I have two books on my TBR pile from another series set in Italy during those Fascist years, the Commissario Ricciardi novels by Maurizio De Giovanni. [more on this series soon]

How do honest people police a country when the people who make the laws are bigger criminals than those who break the law? [I got that one from Bernie Gunther courtesy of his creator Philip Kerr]

The Great War was the most influential event of the 20th century because it lead to the fall of four defeated empires Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman, and also the grave weakening of the two victorious empires the British and French. But another victor country, Italy suffered a terrible fate and fell into a long dark age that lasted from 1922-1945. 

What happened to Italy after her “victory” in the Great War?

Italy in spite of signing the 1882 Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary had in 1915 joined the conflict in alliance with Britain and France. The Italian army attacked Austria in the Alps and along the Isonzo River, and was shattered by the terrible blood bath most of it caused by the sheer incompetence and cruelty of their commanders. But the war not only caused great loss of life it also discredited Italy’s democratic institutions and lead to their overthrow by Benito Mussolini, and the creation of the world’s first fascist state. For an account of the Italian campaign I can recommend The White War, Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919* by Mark Thompson; it won the prestigious Hessel-Tiltman Prize for History in 2009, and goes some way to explain why Mussolini was able to seize power. 

My reviews of the De Luca series: 

I reviewed Carte Blanche the first in the trilogy here
The second The Damned Season I reviewed here.
The last book in the trilogy, Via Del Oche.
*Some of the most iconic figures of the 20th century were involved in that Italian Campaign- ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway, stretcher-bearer Angelo Roncalli later Pope John XXIII, Erwin Rommel, Benito Mussolini, and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.   

51OADLTxBaL._515Lxi9mZ8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Happy New Year! My reading plans for this month are to read the seventh book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas series, 51MCMWBMsjL._51PgXyPu1LL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_and three books kindly sent to me by the publishers.

Europa Editions sent me the third book in the intriguing Commissario Ricciardi series by Maurizio De Giovanni entitled Everyone In Their Place set in Naples in 1931. Soho Crime sent The Fire Dance by retired dentist Helene Tursten, a possible contender for the 2015 Petrona Award, and The Ways of Evil Men by my friend Leighton Gage.

Sadly this will be the final outing for Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police as Leighton died on July 26th 2013 of pancreatic cancer. I had met Leighton, and his lovely wife Eide, at Crime Fest in 2009, and we had kept in contact with him giving me valuable advice especially during the first few months of 2013 when my son was working in Brazil.

I am looking forward to reading all these four books, and also reviewing my current enjoyable read Dead Lions by Mike Herron, the winner of the 2013 CWA Gold Dagger. 

P1040587As part of my weight training program I lifted four books I intend to read over the next few weeks [ authored by Jo Nesbo, Leif G.W.Persson, Hakan Nesser and Robert Harris] in order to photograph them with a few older books authored by people who also sold a few books in their time. 

With the Man Booker Prize going to young Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries, a nineteenth century murder mystery, that weighs in at 832 pages I wonder if this is all part of a cunning plot to sell Kindles, and other electronic reading devices. Readers faced with such huge books will have no choice but to download an electronic version, or face permanent wrist and shoulder pain. 

P1040347I was rather pleased to have made the following comment on my previous post, and then to discover the books had become joint winners of the International Dagger

“The International Dagger should be between three time winner Fred Vargas, with her eccentric novel The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, and Pierre Lemaitre with another quirky French offering Alex.”

Obviously my critical faculties are still functioning. Although after nearly seven years of constant blogging about crime fiction I intend to take a short break. Therefore I am going to do a brief summary of the six books I have read while on holiday, although I will probably come back with  reviews of one or two of the better books. 

An American Spy: Olen Steinhauer-

This was a big disappointment considering I have enjoyed  other books  by this author.  Not enough of over weight German secret service boss Erika Schwartz and far too much American and Chinese complexity that I had trouble following.  


P1040383Live By Night: Dennis Lehane-

An easy read and this novel won the Edgar, but I kept on getting the feeling I had read this book before and that Lehane was parodying himself.


At the End of a Dull Day: Massimo Carlotto translated by Anthony Shugaar- 

Anti-hero is too mild a classification of the main protagonist of this very noir novel, Giorgio Pellegrini. He could be described as a violent misogynist bastard, who discovers he is being screwed by a politician “friend”, and plots revenge.

I quote:

‘Nicoletta described the Chinese girls as “the dolls that Italian males grew up wishing they could play with.” That was true only in part. Actually, they were just sex slaves with long practice at satisfying their masters’ wishes.’

At the End of a Dull Day is a short novel packed with violence, whores, politicians, and the ‘Ndrangheta. Not everyone’s cup of tea but an interesting example of Mediterranean noir.


Death of Demon: Anne Holt translated by Anne Bruce-

Another top class novel in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, and one which packs a lot of back story, and tension into a short book. A lesson for those authors who think they have to write 500 pages to attract the reader. I will come back to this book later.

The Caller: Karin Fossum translated by K.E.Semmel-

An original twist on the crime fiction novel. A story about actions and the unthought of effects they can produce. A beautifully constructed and thought provoking novel.

P1040444The Glass Rainbow: James Lee Burke

The Glass Rainbow proves that you can produce the same plot over and over again and the fans will enjoy it. But your characters have to be larger than life, your social commentary like a sharp dissection, and your writing so lyrical and evocative of  the location that the reader expects a hurricane to tear through their back garden at any moment. Another great book [number 18] in the Dave Robicheaux series 

There are only a limited number of plots so readers and judges are always on the lookout for originality. Fred Vargas and Pierre Lemaitre both wrote books that were that bit different from the usual ‘hunt for a serial killer’, ‘solve a current murder connected to an old unsolved crime’ stuff that is constantly churned out by crime fiction authors and TV producers. I once read a very unkind crime fiction review that said that this particular book was written for people who can’t read by someone who can’t write.

I worry that many crime fiction books today are written for people who don’t read crime fiction. They have plot twists that are obvious and are just variations on a theme. Agatha Christie is the mistress of plot twists, for a great example read the superb Peril at End House [1932], but even she managed to use a similar plot device in Endless Night [1967]  to that in Death on the Nile  [1937]. But perhaps we can forgive her after a gap of 30 years.

The search for the crime fiction series that is original and has something different within its pages is what makes reading so much fun. 

” You must promise you’ll never leave me. Never never never.”

“Never in this world and universe and all eternity,” Cecilie whispered into her hair. [Death of a Demon: Anne Holt]   

DiSardiniaDeath in Sardinia, the third book in the Inspector Bordelli series, is set in the last few weeks of 1965 mainly in Florence where Inspector Bordelli investigates the murder of a loan shark. Totuccio Badalamenti, a man who made other peoples lives a total misery with his usury and blackmail, has been killed with a pair of scissors driven through his throat.

Meanwhile Piras, Bordelli’s young colleague is convalescing at his parent’s house in Boncardo, Sardinia, after being shot by prison escapees. Piras’s father Gavino, was an old comrade of Bordelli, and he had lost an arm during their time fighting the Germans in the war. A neighbour of Gavino, Pina Setzu became worried about her cousin Benigno, who had not been seen for a while. When Piras investigates  he finds Benigno shot in the head and it is assumed he committed suicide; but later Piras realises Benigno has been murdered. The narrative perspective switches between the two detectives, and between Florence and Sardinia, as they investigate these murders.

Bordelli is a bit of a Robin Hood among detectives and his attitude to petty crooks and their crimes is fairly unique. He spends an enormous amount of time reminiscing, loitering, eating, smoking marijuana, and thinking.  Along the way we meet his friends Diotivede, the pathologist, Rosa, the whore, Baragli, the old policeman dying in hospital, Ennio ‘Botta’ the criminal who is a superb cook, and others. The reader is given their back stories and memories at considerable length, some of the stories are harrowing as they relate to the activities of the Fascist Black Brigades during the war. We get the 55 year old Bordelli’s thoughts about the war and his slightly embarrassing thoughts about Marisa, a beautiful teenager; linked with his longing for Milena, a 25 year old Jewish girl friend, who I assume featured in an earlier book.

When the perspective shifts to Piras on Sardinia we learn about Benigno’s terrible war, and a property deal which may be connected with his murder. The action is very leisurely, and the narrative I found a bit indigestible despite the descriptions of delicious food. This was unusual as the translation is by the brilliant Stephen Sartarelli, who also translates the Montalbano stories of Andrea Camilleri. 

The Italian title of Death in Sardinia is Il Nuovo Venuto, The Newcomer, which is probably a bit more relevant than Death in Sardinia for a book which is set in Florence for the majority of the time. I know these books are written for an Italian readership but the accounts of Bordelli and his friends fighting Germans, and  one account of not shooting at Italian Fascists because they were fellow Italians were a little difficult to understand. The Italian Fascists were not that particular.

I am sure that Botta’s story of saving Rebecca, a young Jewish girl, was repeated many many times in real life by good Italians. On the other hand I feel it should have been mentioned that Mussolini’s Italy declared war on Great Britain and France on the 10 June 1940. In over 400 hundred pages there is only one very brief reference to this war in Death in Sardinia. 

He’d made it back from the war alive, but there had been many occasions when he could easily have died. He’d been lucky. It was almost though he was protected by a star in the heavens. In 1941, shrapnel from a British torpedo had breached the wall of the submarine he was in. ……………

Italy has been influenced by the four powerful movements of Fascism, Communism, Catholicism, and Mafia. Any country that went on to suffer the post war traumas of Mafia and Red Brigade violence will be sensitive to what happened during the Mussolini regime.  I just wish Marco Vichi’s narrative had been tighter and less wordy. He could have made the point about the anti-Fascist struggle, and the inherent goodness of his protagonist without slowing the pace of the story with so many digressions, but despite this I came to appreciate this novel that gradually grew on me.

Not an easy read and in my opinion not an International Dagger winner, but certainly an interesting and thought provoking book.

‘My dear Piras, after the war, for the sake of peace across the nation, between amnesties and pardons, the few gentlemen of Salo who had ended up in prison were released……And, in fact, many of them were kindly asked to resume their positions in the courts and police departments.

‘ Even the war criminals?’

‘In the end, they all got off scot free.’   

41pmSONWyyL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I read The Foreign Correspondent a few weeks ago, before I embarked on my International Dagger shortlist reading catch up, which has reached Death in Sardinia by Marco Vichi. 

Alan Furst’s story is set in Paris in the years just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It tells the story of Carlo Weisz, a journalist working for Reuters who was originally from Trieste. Trieste was an important port city of  Austria-Hungary until their defeat in the Great War, when it became part of Italy. Weisz has been in Spain reporting on the end of the Civil War, and the final battles fought by the Republican International Brigades including elements of the Garibaldi Brigade under  the charismatic anti-Fascist Italian Colonel “Ferrara”. General Franco’s Nationalists had received considerable military aid from the Fascist powers Italy and Germany while the democracies had maintained an arms embargo, which in effect ensured the defeat of the democratically elected Republican Government. The bombing of Guernica, immortalised by Pablo Picasso in his famous painting, was a precursor and practice run for later attacks on Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Coventry, Bristol, and all the rest.

Weisz becomes the leader of a group of Italian refugees from Mussolini’s regime, who are publishing Liberazione an anti-Fascist newspaper that is smuggled back into Italy. The former editor has been murdered by the agents of the OVRA. Furst gives his readers an explanation of the name that is more compelling than other books I have read that state that no one knew what the letters stood for during those years of terror.

Today we regard Mussolini as some kind of buffoon, but his regime was no joke for those who lived in Italy during those years.

OVRA- Organizzazione di Vigilanza e Repressione dell’Antifascismo; organisation for the vigilant repression of antifascism

But it is said that it comes from a memo from Mussolini that he wanted a police force that would be like a PIOVRA, a giant octopus with tentacles into every aspect of Italian life. The name PIOVRA was apparently mistyped as OVRA, and Mussolini liked the name so it stuck.  

Weisz travels to Prague to report on the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

Churchill’s famous retort to Neville Chamberlain after Munich is quoted by the author.

“You were given a choice between shame and war. You chose shame and you shall have war.” 

Weisz then goes to Berlin to cover the signing of the Pact of Steel by Hitler and the Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law. Winston Churchill once joked, in the hearing of his new son-in-law, band leader Vic Oliver, that Mussolini was his favourite dictator because he had his son-in-law executed. In Berlin Weisz resumes his affair with his beautiful married lover Christa von Schirren, a committed anti-Nazi. As a result Weisz is then persuaded by the British agent Edwin Brown to be the ghost writer for a propaganda book written by Colonel Ferrara, in exchange for getting Christa out of Germany, a country where people disappear into “nacht und nebel” the night and fog.

The Foreign Correspondent is a standard Alan Furst novel, a lot of spies, a little sex, an easy read with great pre-World War II atmosphere, fairly standard characters, a simple plot, but with an educational value that makes up for any weaknesses and the low key ending.








Usually when the CWA International Dagger Shortlist is announced I have read most of the books, but this year I have only read one of them, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I normally would not comment until I had read more of the books, but the  announcement on the CWA website reproduced below made me think the judges are unhappy at the quality of the shortlist. Surely if “several outstanding books” are not submitted by publishers within the deadlines some kind of failsafe system should be arranged. I can understand the organisers wanting a fee to include the books in a shortlist, but the prestige of the award will be tarnished if the shortlist becomes  a collection of books that wouldn’t have made it but X, Y and Z weren’t submitted in time. There is mention of terrible violence in two of the books, and I always wonder if this is really necessary in any circumstances. I will possibly get round to reading only one of the two violent books, but when I read in the press about the murder of April Jones, and the fact that Drummer Lee Rigby had to be identified from his dental records, I think authors and scriptwriters have some responsibility to tone down any descriptions of violence in their work.

It is a bittersweet irony that the first ever Israeli crime novel to be shortlisted D.A. Mishani’s The Missing File appears alongside a book by the grandson of Baldur von Schirach, Reichhsjugendfuhrer and then Gauleiter of Vienna, a man who served 20 years for crimes against humanity. No one could blame author Ferdinand von Schirach for the terrible crimes of his grandfather, but equally I don’t believe he can absolve his family name by writing novels, however well intentioned.

The last time Fred Vargas won this award in 2009, the shortlist included Karin Alvtegen, Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and Johan Theorin. Was this a stronger shortlist than that of 2013?

An analysis of International Dagger shortlists over the past five years shows 8 Swedish, 7 Italian, 6 French, two  South African, Norwegian and Icelandic, and one  German, Argentinean, Spanish and Israeli novels were nominated. 

The announcement of the winner is on 15 July therefore I hope to review more of the shortlist before then.  

From the CWA website:

“Questions of quality led to two long discussions by the judging panel: one is whether a socially important book which is otherwise not exceptional in originality or aesthetic quality is, nonetheless, an ‘outstanding’ book; the other is the problem of exceptional violence.

In both cases, the judges agree that one of crime fiction’s claims to attention is when it reveals, analyses, and publicizes issues of social concern. Crime fiction can alert its publics to failures in laws and law enforcement, on the street, in the courts, and in legislation. It can perform the work of historical memory and bring injustices to public attention. Three of the shortlisted books raise these questions: one performs the work of publicity and has called the attention of its society to a questionable change in its laws; in two, though there is terrible violence, it is employed in the service of serious questions, and is never gratuitous.

The judges regret the non-submission of several outstanding books, and wish to remind publishers of the CWA’s deadlines.”

P1040204The weather is finally showing some change from one of the coldest springs on record.P1040198


My reading in May ranged consisted of  three crime fiction books, five science fiction books that varied from the very clever to the very unreadable, and one history book. This book by Frederic Morton was about Vienna in the period 1888/1889 and concerned the build up to the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolph and his mistress the young Baroness Marie Vetsera at Mayerling. If I tell you that the book ends on 20 April 1889 you might guess why the last few sentences sent a chill through me far greater than any crime book. 


I will always enjoy reading history books but even though many years ago I read a lot of science fiction I have now decided it is not really my scene.  I like a good murder. My enthusiasm for crime fiction was revived by reading three books of equal quality that I really enjoyed. It would be a bit unkind to separate these excellent books:

Lifetime:Liza Marklund

Black Bear: Aly Monroe

Blood Curse, The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi: Maurizio De Giovanni

I will report on my day and the stimulating panels I attended on the Saturday of Crime Fest in Bristol, and the International Dagger and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger shortlists next week.