Saturday, July 28, 2007

Another Italian: Carofiglio

Gianrico Carofiglio is another Italian crime writer who writes what he knows. Michele Giuttari is a detective and Carofiglio was an anti-mafia prosecutor. His character is a defense lawyer in Bari, but has frequent cause to delve into the world of prosecutors, detectives, and mafias (mostly that of Calabria, also the former stomping ground of Giuttari). But Carofiglio's writing is understated and natural, without the (sometimes unfortunate, to me) dramatics of his fellow countryman's writing. In this third novel featuring Guido Guerrieri, the lawyer is dumped into a case that includes a former Fascist thug who may be a murderer and is now charged with drug smuggling (he says he was framed), a beautiful Japanese-Italian wife and mother, a mafia lawyer, and his own continuing funk (he's now been left by two women). Guido is a charming guide to his legal quandaries and his disastrous private life, and part of his charm is his self-effacing attitude--he's always uncertain, guilty, and tentative in his dealings with both women and the law. He's also no detective--he relies on informants in the police and the prosecutor's office, and his inquiries on behalf of his clients move forward naturally, without much effort on his part (but with much worry and consternation). Along the way, we get to see the daily life in Baria, the chief city of Puglia, a region of Italy not often open to us through fiction (much less crime fiction). These novels are low-key masterpieces of the form--I don't often read legal thrillers, but Carofiglio's are not limited by the typical theatrics of that genre. Reasonable Doubts doesn't turn on the uncovering of key evidence or revelations on the witness stand: it proceeds by means of Guido's determination, his occasional insights, and the genuine conviction of his arguments in court. As is occasionally mentioned by his clients and others who know him, he's a good man. Highly recommended (as is Giuttari's novel, see below, but Carofiglio is a better writer).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Florentine procedural

I'd been looking forward to Michele Guittari's A Florentine Death since I first hear of it some weeks ago, a police thriller by an actual detective, the head of Florence's Squadra Mobile and the uncoverer of at least part of the truth behind the famous Monster of Florence case. His first novel is set in Florence in the last stages of the Monster case, but the plot concerns a serial killer of a more literary sort. The book is fun, but a bit irritating--mostly because Giuttari is hardly as accomplished a writer as he is a detective. He is in parts reminiscent of Donna Leon and in parts reminiscent of (inevitably) Magdalen Nabb (particularly in the descriptions of Florentine street life). Giuttari sometimes narrates when he should dramatize, and there is some gratuitous sex (as well as some questionable portrayal of homosexuality of both gay and lesbian varieties). The novel reminds me more of some best-seller thrillers, in both positive and negative ways, than of the higher ranks of noir fiction (some cliches, some sensationalism, some too-easy plotting). And in a few spots, the character (obviously based to some degree on the author) is portrayed in a bit too glamorous terms to be taken too seriously (making the author seem a bit too pleased with himself). But the book is still fun to read, and a crime novel of Florence by a Florentine crime-fighter is irresistible. I'll wait anxiously for the next of Giuttari's novels to be translated, but also hope that he gets better at controlling his material.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Alicia Giménez-Bartlett's 2nd

Prime Time Suspect is Alicia Giménez-Bartlett's second novel to be brought out in English translation by the excellent Europa Editions press. The story includes a dysfunctional pair of cop partners, their dispeptic boss, a murdered gossip journalist, and a host of lowlifes (some of them in high places): all the elements of classic noir. Except that the tone is quite different. Petra Delicado is the lead detective in the case and the narrator of the novel. Her voice is as digressive as the method of her investigation--irresistably leading to an analogy with the architectural fantasies of Gaudi (as illustrated on the novel's cover)--though half the novel takes place in Madrid rather than Gaudi's (and Petra's) Barcelona. The meandering lines of Gaudi's architecture is a visual equivalent of the indirect narrative of Giménez-Bartlett's novels. But Petra is not as interested in food as that other first-person (and also meandering) detective, Pepe Carvalho (star of the Vazquez Montalban books, in which a substantial portion of the story involves Pepe's current meal). A good deal of what would be the "action" in a genre novel is off stage here, with the focus remaining on Petra's thoughts, attitudes, and relationships with her sister and her partner. The result is that while there's plenty of murder, there's not much bloody violence at the forefront of the narrative. That's not a disadvantage--Petra is a distinctive character and an atypical cop. Plus there's an interesting contrast (true or not) between the style of the Madrid murder squad and Petra's own Barcelona squad (led by her perpetually irritated boss). It's Petra, though, that keeps the novels lively and interesting, not the action or the plot. Her voice is frequently depressed (about her private life more than her cases), but she's like a friend that you like so well that you gladly put up with her moaning (or her departures from the expectations of the noir or policier novel).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Been a little slow lately

Not many posts lately (traveling too much--for work not play). But I'm currently reading the new Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett novel (I'll report on that soon) and there are copies of the new Karin Fossum and Gianrico Carofiglio novels in English translation on the way (looking forward to those). Anybody else reading any good noir or policier novels at the moment?