Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Conor Fitzgerald, The Namesake

Conor Fitzgerald is Irish, writes under a pseudonym, and his series character is an American who grew up in Rome and is an irascible Italian commisario. The cover of his new (and I think best) novel, The Namesake, suggests that he fills the void left by the death of Michael Dibdin, but this most recent book seems to me to have a bit more in common with the excellent series by Timothy Williams featuring Commissario Piero Trotti, though Trotti is considerably different from Fitzgerald's Commissario Alec Blue.

First, Blume is younger (Trotti is on the verge of ageing out of the Italian police when the series starts and retired by the last, still unpublished, novel). Blue is also not a native Italian, and Trotti is very much anchored in the northern Italian region where the series is set. But both detectives are difficult people to be around, personally or professionally, and their methods are unorthodox and their stories complex, with sudden shifts and unpredictable plots. Dibdin's Aurelio Zen shares some of these characteristics, too, but to me Blume is more reminiscent of Trotti, a younger version perhaps, and whose attachments to the past are more to his art historian parents whose sudden death left his stranded in Rome as a child than to ex-wife, daughter, and countryside (as is the case with Trotti)—though both have a melancholy edge deriving from their past.

In The Namesake, a numbers-cruncher at an insurance firm is murdered, apparently solely because of his name, setting in motion a dark and twisting story involving the least known branch of major italian organized crime, the 'Ndrangheta, based in Calabria but now reaching far abroad: specifically into Germany, where a branch of the 'Ndrangheta is involved in a crisis of succession when the old man who is the head of the branch is released from a German prison.

Part of the pleasure in reading the novel is in the twists in the plot, so I won't give away any more. Blume has, since the previous novel, been romantically involved with one of his subordinates, Caterina, and here she's finding him even more difficult as they have become more of a couple. Blume puts her in charge of a the case of the murdered insurance man, which he thinks is going to go nowhere, and is then tempted into a (sort-of) undercover operation shadowing a German cop who is traveling without authorization in Italy, apparently headed for Calabria.

Neither the organized crime aspects of the book nor the relationships between Blue, Caterina, the German rogue cop, the magistrates whose mandates the police are supposed to follow, and the security police develop in a predictable fashion. As readers follow the story, they will also learn a lot about how the 'Ndrangheta operates and why they appear to be the most resilient and dangerous crime syndicate despite being smaller than the better known groups. There's also an underground chamber in which a character is essentially buried alive, driving the tension in the later chapters.

The Namesake ranges more broadly across Italy (from Milan to Calabria) than previous Blue novels. The story itself is also in its broad outlines as well as details quite different, more involving, and frequently funnier (particularly in Blume's relationship with the German) than the previous books.

1 comment:

Declan Burke said...

Conor Fitzgerald's best book yet, Glenn, definitely. And that's saying a lot, I think, because the first two were very good.

Cheers, Dec