Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Crocodile, by Maurizio de Giovanni

Two previous novels by Maurizio de Giovanni have been published in English translation, both in the Commissario Ricciardi series set in Naples before World War II and featuring some paranormal elements (and a third Ricciardi novel is set to be published in English in November). I'm not normally drawn to either historical crime novels or supernatural ones, so I hadn't picked up the Ricciardi books, but the publisher, Europa, kindly sent me a copy of De Giovanni's contemporary novel, The Crocodile (and having read that book, I expect to go back to have a look at the other series).

The Crocodile is about a serial killer, but not a psychopath of the sort we've come to know so well. This is a methodical killer (hence his nickname and the book's title) who plans carefully, lies in wait for his prey, and kills mercilessly but without a desire to inflict pain on the murdered victims. His motive lies elsewhere, as the police and a disgraced detective, Giuseppe Lojacono, will gradually discover.

Lojacono is the victim of a denunciation in his native Sicily and is sent away to Naples and told to do nothing there other than occupy space in the police station. Which is what he's doing when he is inadvertently involved in the first murder, when a young boy is killed by a single small caliber bullet. The police who take over the case are determined to follow Camorra leads and ignore anything that distracats from that line of inquiry, but Lojacono isn't convinced that organized crime had anything to do with this case. As pressure mounts with further murders, a young female prosecutor turns to the disgraced detective for help.

The Crocodile gives a vibrant picture of life in a difficult place, whose population tends to keep their eyes down to prevent any involvement in the mess that the Camorra has made of the place. But there's still life in the city, and the secondary characters, including the owner of a trattoria where Lojacono eats every evening, testify to that living entity. The families of the victims (from various social strata) are very much present, along with the victims, whose lives are glimpsed in the days and moments leading up to the crimes.

This is a vivid and involving story and a testament to the strength (and importance) of crime writing in Italy, which goes far beyond the justified popularity of Camilleri. I hope there will be more of Lojacono, and I will soon be visiting the very different world of de Giovanni's other novels.

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