I chose my second European book for the Global Reading Challenge because it is set in a place I’ve visited, loved and always wanted to live in. It tells a story about the head of the city’s elite detective squad and was written by a man who once held that job in real life.
Florence’s Squarda Mobile is called in to investigate the death of an unidentified girl whose body has been found in a nearby village. At first she is paid scant attention as it is assumed she’s just another dead junkie but the head of the Squadra, Michele Ferrara, thinks there is something fishy enough to warrant a more thorough investigation. Not long after the case is opened Ferrara learns his best friend is missing and he shifts his attention, somewhat abruptly, to searching for him. This book started promisingly but I started losing interest at this rather jarring plot shift. Eventually the two cases were connected but the route to get there was one of the most convoluted I’ve ever come across. There were a lot of detailed descriptions of complex procedures (the getting and serving of warrants, and endless driving between one place and another) all carried out by an enormous cast of characters whose names I defy anyone to remember in context. In the end though it was just a run down of who did what and when they did it without much insight into why anything was happening.
I had other problems with the book too. Perhaps the author tried to combine too many of his own experiences into the one novel. We had high level political corruption, a paedophile club, international drug running, Ferrara being put on official suspension, freemasons and (of course) the Sicilian mafia. Perhaps he did come across all these things in his career but I doubt it all happened in the space of a couple of weeks.
I also found some of the procedural elements baffling and totally lacking credibility. I suppose a policeman might discuss confidential elements of a case with his trusted wife but I struggle to imagine that the same kind of discussion would take place with an unrelated third party in the room. And I simply do not believe that any police force in any country in the world would allow the adult son of a presumed paedophile to be in the room while the Police watch videos of the father and numerous other men engaged in the obscene (not to mention criminal) torture and rape of children.
I also think Giuttari succumbed to the natural desire to make the central character, presumably based at least in part on himself, a wee bit too superior in every way from other mere mortals. I know we all have fantasy lives in which we are smarter, more compassionate, the most favoured as a boss and more incorruptible than those around us but most of us would surely add a dash of humility and a frailty or two before turning such fantasies into a character for the consumption of others. None of the other characters had the opportunity to do anything other than bask in the reflected glory of somehow knowing the great man and even though I only finished the book this morning I cannot remember a single on of their names.
As I’ve written this review I’ve realised there really wasn’t much at all that I liked about the book and my rating has gotten progressively lower. I really can’t recommend it for anyone but to be fair there is a more glowing review at Reviewing the Evidence. But personally I’d rather read more Michael Dibdin or Donna Leon or give Andrea Camilleri a try next time I want some Italian crime fiction.
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My rating 2/5
Translator: Howard Curtis, Publisher: Abacus  ISBN: 9780349120089; Length: 381 pages
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Bernadette – You’ve put your finger on some things that I notice when I read, too. I, too, dislike it when the protagonist “gets all the glory.” And I’ve seen the kind of “cast of thoughts” of characters you mention, too. I have to admit I get weary of books like that, too. Perhaps I’ll focus on Leon and Camilleri, too.
Thanks for this review, Bernadette. This is an author I have been thinking for a while I should try, but had been a bit put off by various reviews and blurbs – not that they were that bad, just that the books did not seem totally my cup of tea.
I have to say that I am not as keen on Donna Leon as I was when I discovered “real” Italian crime authors eg Camilleri, and those two books I recently read, Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer (can’t spell name from memory – Guiarddici or something like that) and Poisonville (Carlotto), both of which I highly recommend and are very short. (reviews at Petrona) I also love Gianrico Carofiglio – about a book-reading lawyer in Bali, Italy. Check out the reviews at Euro Crime. I love this series (Bitter Lemon again, but they are being re-released in the UK, maybe by another publisher, can’t recall). I do highly recommend them, so straightforward and good plots, yet so much emotion under the surface.
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