Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Italian noir from Giampiero Rigosi

The newly translated Night Bus by Giampiero Rigosi (from the UK's Bitter Lemon Press) is a wild ride, a combination of Pulp Fiction and the Pink Panther. The story, with a large cast of characters, is told in short blackouts that weave the strands of the plot around and around, tightening the chararcters in the web that Franz, a bus driver who is perhaps the only innocent in the whole lot, sees in the streetmap of the city of Bologna that he navigates on his bus route. Night Bus should actually come with a warning label--Rigosi is so good at keeping the story (and the suspense) going that the book is hard to put down. I actually could not pick it up and start reading unless I knew I had a substantial block of time to give to it. At every turn, a new complication or twist pops up to keep the story going at its breakneck pace. It's obvious that Rigosi is a skilled writer, and that his aims are above the level of pulp, but he never condescends to the reader or the genre. As dark as the story is, and as many corpses as do pile up, the comedy remains at a high level. And while you may think you see a particular resolution coming, Rigosi manages to keep surprising the reader by avoiding plot cliches that are irresistible to most mainstream thriller and mystery writers. I regret that it will take a while to get any further novels from Rigosi translated, and that we're at the mercy of boardroom decisions about whether and when we'll see any more at all (maybe I should brush up on my Italian). But for now, Night Bus is one of the best noir thriller's I've read in a long time, and clearly the best of Bitter Lemon's fine list of translated noir fiction.

Friday, March 17, 2006

noir, crime, middle class, Serpent's Tail

Quote from Pete Ayrton, publisher of Serpent's Tail Press, on their Mask Noir series (published in Jacket, no. 4, July 1998--an online magazine): "The crime list has really taken off since we last talked. It started with the whole P. D. James controversy. P.D. James gave this interview to the World Service of the BBC — which, you know, you’re not meant to listen to in the UK. It went out at 3.30 or so in the morning, broadcast for Latin America or somewhere, and she made the point that the middle classes were the suitable subject for crime fiction because the working classes didn’t make moral choices. Regardless of what one thinks of what she said, it certainly led to a loud and controversial debate over the nature of crime writing, who are its protagonists, who are its natural subjects. And obviously there is a recognition that the UK is changing as a society, it’s becoming multi-ethnic, whole hierarchies are disintegrating and contemporary crime writing has to reflect this changing reality of contemporary British cities. And the literary traditions of the cosy, the rural inspector, no longer seem adequate for the genre to cover the reality of British life." This is a reference that I've mentioned before, regarding P.D. James's incredible statement. Comments?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

upcoming scandinavian, italian, french, more

Just a hint of what's coming out (and what will be appearing here in the near future):
Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland): Voices
Tonino Benacquista (France): Framed
Luca Di Fulvio (Italy): The Mannequin Man
Gianrico Carofiglio (Italy): A Walk in the Dark
Matti Joensuu (Finland): The Priest of Evil
Jo Nesbo (Norway): The Devil's Star
Dominique Manotti (France): Dead Horsemeat
Anders Roslund (Sweden): The Beast
Giampero Rigosi (Italy): Night Bus
Kjell Eriksson (Sweden): The Princess of Burundi
Fred Vargas (France): The Three Evangelists

This is a sudden glut of novels that I've been either waiting for their publication dates or have just discovered while foraging through Amazon,, and Bookfinder. Is there any significance to the fact that only 2 of the authors are women (and both of those French)? Manotti and Vargas (that's a pseudonym) are the 2 among this group. Though there are a number of women working in the noir tradition, these are the only ones in this crop. Of course there's also Helene Tursten's The Torso, which I haven't included but will be out this summer (from Soho Press), so maybe this is a very small, mostly male window on noir...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

noir can't outdo reality sometimes

In Atlanta, in 1987, a hit man carrying a "delivery" of roses shot a socialite twice with a 9mm pistol in a Buckhead (upscale in-town suburb) townhouse when she answered the door to accept the flowers. The estranged husband's trial is going on in Atlanta right now. The husband, who was moving to Florida, asked the trucker who drove the moving van to "take care of" his wife. The trucker says he didn't believe the husband was serious until he got $12,500, half of the $25,000 the husband had offered him, in the mail. So the trucker picked up a bartender and a stripper in North Carolina, drove to Atlanta, bought the roses, and told the bartender to go to the wife's door posing a delivery man. He says he heard two shots and the bartender came back to the car sprayed with blood. I don't know how they caught the trucker, but he got 20 years after agreeing to testify against the husband. They've never caught the bartender and have no evidence he existed except for the trucker's statement. This is as close to a noir or TV crime show plot as reality gets, but no matter how hard they try, the writers and the TV shows just can't make "murder for hire" seem as tawdry as the reality (plus the fact that it took from 1987 to 2006 to bring the husband to trial isn't reflected in the TV shows, though in noir fiction sometimes the timeline is more accuate).