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:

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...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Laura Lippman, Sunburn

I recently read, or rather heard, two audiobooks by Laura Lippman: her current standalone novel Sunburn and a previous book in her Baltimore private detective series (Hush Hush). The detective novel worked OK as an audiobook, and having read several earlier books in the series, the story offers a new investigation as well as updates on familiar characters and settings. But Sunburn particularly shined in the audio version (though I can imagine it is also satisfying as words on paper). Lippman has turned noir inside-out in her reimagining of the genre as practiced by James M. Cain and other pioneers of small-town, truckstop noir. Lippman begins with a stock scenario, two strangers in a bar, who've stopped as they passed through this small town in lower Delaware, a town not close enough to the beach to be prosperous. Their interaction is relayed in both their points of view, in alternation (as is much of the book), and their voices tell the story as much in what they leave out as what they tell: the key events in the story, murder, arson, fraud, conspiracies of several sorts, occur in the in-between spaces, referred to obliquely rather than portrayed directly. The effect is a tightening web woven by the characters out of their own personal lives and struggles. Sunburn is a departure for Lippman, both from her detective series and from her previous standalones, which are psychological thrillers. Sunburn, on the other hand, is a satisfying plunge into purest noir, told through the spiralling voices pulling the characters through twists and revelations toward the sort of final crash that not everyone can survive.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Three short takes from Norway, Italy, and Alaska

Catching up on a few recent books of note. First, Anne Holt's In Dust and Ashes, the 10th and purportedly last in the series featuring brilliant detective Hanne Wilhelmsen--and to my mind the best of the series. Hanne has usually had a colorful sidekick, and for this novel it's a young, bright detective trying to claw his way up out of the autistic spectrum--among her sidekicks, I think he's the most interesting. The case at hand involves a cold case (and since Hanne is retired, she now only deals with cold cases), a recently released convicted killer, the suicide of a right-wing blogger, and the kidnapping of a young girl. The story includes a twist on the lcked-room mystery as well as the trope of the brilliant investigator who rarelly leaves her home, but the novel is unique in the way it draws all the threads and the tropes together.

Valerio Varesi's series featuring Commissario Soneri is set in Parma, a foggy city on the Po river in the north of Italy. An older woman comes to the Questura seeking Soneri, but he doesn't see her--and a complex set of events is set in motion that takes the Commissario back to his yuoth in unexpected and unpleasant ways. He discovers the landlady of the boarding house where his deceased wife had lived before they were married, and for the rest of the novel, his wife's life before he met her, the boarding house, and the later denizens of the building haunt Soneri, as he wanders back and forth through the past and present of a city much changed. Although the story can seem a bit static at times, the musings of the detective and the story that emerges slowly are fascinating.

Stan Jones has been publishing a series for some years based in the small town of Chukchi in rural Alaska, featuring policeman Nathan Active, who though a native Alaskan was raised int he white community in the city, and is an outsider in both communities. The latest installment, written with Patricia Watts, is The Big Empty, alterntes between the vast interior of Alaska, a setting that Jones has always been effective in portraying, and the gritty small town at its edge. After a plane crash taht had been declared caused by pilot error, Active is persuaded to investigate what turs out to be murder and the novel follows his pursuit of the truth from a unique method of killing through a web of revenge, guilt, and troubled families (including his own. As with all the Nathan Active books, this is a great read and a fascinating look at an environment (both town and wilderness) that few of us have the chance to experience.