Sunday, March 01, 2020

The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguin

The Fragility of Bodies is a crime novel from Argentina, and Sergio Olguin's story is a departure from the usual crime fare. Veronica Rosenthal is a magazine writer who decides to look into the suicide of a commuter-train operator in downtown Buenos Aires. What she. uncovers, over the 377 pages of this Bitter Lemon edition translated by Miranda France, is a bizarre betting game that preys on young would-be soccer players in the slums around the city, particularly those along the train lines. Veronica is a woman in control of her life, single and intending to keep that way, and in her professional life she is determined and implacable.

She finds a train operator who is willing to talk to her and embarks on a journey of personal and professional import. Olguin's text is lively, shifting among the various character and the sites in the city relevant to the tale, so we get a vivid story as well as a 3D view of Buenos Aires today. At some points in the story, I became as frustrated as Veronica with the lack of progress in her research, but stick around for the satisfying, if also quite dark in the way of most noir visions of conteporary life. Olguin's story is fascinating, and his novel is unlike anything else you will find in crime fiction.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone, Maurizio De Giovanni

Been away for a while, I've resolved to keep up a little better, with short reviews at least. Just read Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone, by Maurizio De Giovanni, the third of his "bastards" novels to be translated into English (in Europa's World Noir series). This series is a little lighter than his Commissario Ricciardi series (the commissario hears the voices of the dead, after all), but there's a lot of misery, not least among the diverse group of detectives "exiled" for various reasons to the Pizzofalcone police station, where they linger awaiting the closing of the station, occasionally amassing their forces to solve a case and try to save the station and their jobs.

This book starts with two cases: a teacher suspects that one of her students is being molested by her father and a brother and sister are found murdered in his apartment, with no suspects of motive that the cops can discover. Most of the book follows the frustrating investigations by the team, with various cops coming into the primary focus, rather than a single detective. The result is a "collective novel, a bit like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, or the Martin Beck novels of Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Were it not for the pervading misery, I would almost call the Pizzofalcone novels "cozies," since there are certain social norms reinforced by the stories (also the case, with, for example, another very dark, noir author, George Pelecanos.

All in all, De Giovanni is a very interesting writer, and I'm grateful to Europa Editions for making. his work available.  One note--the "stand-alone" novel by the same author, The Crocodile, is in part a "prequel" to the bastards series, setting up one character who will become part of the team in the series--you might want to read the Crocodile before
starting on the series.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The Night of Rome, Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo,

The Night of Rome is a sequel to Suburra, the recent novel about politics, corruption, and gangsters in Italy'scapital city (both novels, Suburra and The Night of Rome, are tangential to the movie Suburra and the TV series of the same name, and more about that in a minute). In The Night of Rome, some of the characters from the previous story are now in the background (most notably the gangster behind most of the action, Samurai, is now in jail), and others are now struggling with one another and with a new mayor over control of the infrastructure projects aligned with a jubilee year announced by Pope Francis.

The machinations of Sebastiano and Chiara, the gangster at the center of what's happening (as long as his mentor, Saurai, is still in jail) and the leftist politician on the rise in local politics are a fascinating dance of violence, fading ideologies, sexual attraction, and old and new alliances. There is indeed violence, and the novel begins with a particularly vivid assault on an innocent employee of the intended recipient of the message behind the attack). Once beyond this stomach-churning passage, most of the novel keeps the violence at arms length, or at least in a less vivid register.

The Night of Rome corresponds, roughly, to the time frame of the 2nd season of the Suburra TV series (available on Netflix with subtitles), but the story is completely different, an alternate  reality with some characters overlapping both. The Suburra film is also an overlapping reality, but ends in a way that would prevent a film of The Night of Rome being possible without, again, changing almost everything. This Italian practice, transforming a novel into a filmic equivalent and then transforming it again in a multi-episode TV format, is both interesting, providing insight into the process of reimagining a story several times, and frustrating (keeping up with the characters from one story to another, one sequel to another, can be confusing). But The Night of Rome on its own is a powerful vision of a recent, almost contemporary Rome in which tensions of politics, organized crime, and organized religion is powerful and fascinating.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Laura Lippman, The Lady in the Lake

A short review (because that's all I can manage right now) of Laura Lippman's interesting new novel The Lady in the Lake. It's about a Jewish wife and mother in '60s Baltimore who, after a chance encounter, veers suddenly off the conventional path she had created for herself into a new world, with an impossible lover, an improbably career, and an uncertain future. She begins with the discovery of the body of a missing girl (having gone out searching mostly to get out of the house, it seems), then a new focus on the case of a murdered African-American woman whom nobody seems to care about except her parents. Along the way, she reveals the Baltimore (and the ountry) of an era emerging from the conventional 1950s into a new opennes to change in the 1960s. Lippman's previous novel was an exercise in neo-noir genre bending, and the new one is another change in direction for a writer who keeps coming up with interesting takes on the crime novel, expanding the scope of the genre beyond conventional exectations (much as her new heroine expands her own scope and life).

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Two unusual noirs from France and Italy


I recently read Pierre Garnier's C'Est la vie and Tioachino Criaco's Black Souls, both of which are unusual takes on noir tropes. Black Souls is less like a novel than an epic, delineating the history of a crime family in central Italy in the voice of their leader, as he rises from shepherd to crime boss and then crashes in an epic sacrifice that fades out in a cloud of mythic proportions. It's a compelling read, but without a central thread of plot, other than a string of incidents along the thread of the hero's life.

C'Est la Vie on the other hand begins as a traditional novel, in the voice of a writer who is dissatisfied with his life despite having finally had success with his new novel. The intricate plot revolves around his son, one of his former wives, his current (much younger) wife, leading toward (like Black Souls) a final conflagration that achieves a surrealist, dreamlike version of noir in which the hero retreatsf rom life (almost) into a trapped-in mental state he maintains seemingly by force of his will.

Both these books are fascinating, and both defy the expectations of readers: adventurous crime fiction readers should take a break from conventional fiction and have a look.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Sean Carswell, Dead Extra

See my review at: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/other-scripts-within-the-story-on-sean-carswells-dead-extra
@lreviewofbooks

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Catch-up list

I've been lazy about doing reviews here, and will need to run a bunch of short ones to catch up. Not ready to do that today, but here's a list of books recently read, reviews to come:

Antonio Manzini: Spring Cleaning (Italy)
Peter Church: Crackerjack (South Africa)
Donna Leon: Unto us a Son is Given (Italy)
Ilaaria Tuti: Flowers over the Inferno (Italy)
Jussi Adler-Olsson (Denmark)
Deon Meyer: The Woman in the Blue Cloak (South Africa)
Gioachino Criaco: Black Souls (Italy)

I'm not promisingn to review them in that order, and not promising how soon...