Tag Archives: Crime

The Crocodile – Maurizio Di Giovanni: A Review

the crocodile maurizio de giovanni“So what exactly do you do here at the San Gaetano police station?”

Lojacono decided to give the woman another chance and sat back down.

“I’m in the Crime Reporting Office. But that’s a front. I’m actually spending my days fighting a bloody poker duel with my computer. My weapon of choice is a five-card stud.”

New translated crime, that’s what you need – and I’m only too happy to oblige. I’ve just read The Crocodile (Il Metodo del Coccodrillo), a Neapolitan crime thriller from Maurizio Di Giovanni and it’s quite something.

Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojocano is a Sicilian cop who finds himself in the purgatory that is the San Gaetano police station in the historic centre of Naples. Caught in a scandal back home, it is decided that it would be best for everyone if he disappeared for a while.

He sits at his desk all day and plays poker on the computer and he is under strict instruction to do nothing but serve his time and stay out of the way.

It should be an easy task but the long, idle hours only give him time to mull over his predicament and consider the shame he has brought upon himself, not to mention his wife and teenage daughter to whom he has become an embarrassment and a stronzo (look it up).

By some administrative fluke, he happens to be the only person on duty one night when the call comes through – there’s been a murder – a sixteen year old boy has been found in a courtyard with a bullet hole in his head.

Lojacono is the first at the scene which irritates his chief no end and he is ordered to return to his desk. Before he leaves, he makes sure to point out a piece of evidence – a pile of used tissues.

As is the habit of the local constabulary, the murder is brushed off as the work of the Camorra – an excuse that works very well until more murdered children are found. The crimes are identical – a single shot to the head at close range from a small calibre pistol and there is one more similarity – at every scene, the killer has left behind tissues soaked in tears.

The press learn of this curiosity and the murderer is soon dubbed The Crocodile – the beast who weeps before claiming his victims. His M.O. is obviously not that of your typical camorrista and soon, the efficacy of the police investigation is called into question. Although his superiors don’t want to listen, Lojacono is the only one with a different theory and he finds himself in a race against time to find the perpetrator before more children are killed.

As Andrea Camilleri did for Sicily and Michele Giuttari did for Florence, Maurizio Di Giovanni evokes the atmosphere of Naples. A Neapolitan himself, it’s perhaps strange that he has chosen an outsider for his protagonist. Lojacono is not only a stranger, but one who sees only the dark side of Naples. He omits the vibrancy and energy of the city and emphasises the ancient air of mistrust. The city mistrusts the sea, the sea mistrusts the city, the citizens mistrust the police and pretty much everyone walks around mistrustfully avoiding each other’s gaze. Everywhere there is anger and guarded hatred and the only joyous element Di Giovanni has thought to include is the quick-fire Neapolitan wit of the characters, caught in a constant battle of playful insults.

It’s a very dark read all-in-all but an enjoyable one and although it isn’t exactly filled with surprises, the strength of the characters keeps the pages turning. I’ve personally found in Lojocano a great creation and I’ll look forward to reading more.

Europa Editions Publishes Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy

Total Chaos - Jean Claude IzzoFans of gritty European crime novels sit up and pay attention! Europa Editions have just published Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy.

Set in the cultural melting pot of Marseilles, these books take root in a seed-bed of bigotry, racial tension and fundamentalist rumblings. If that’s not the perfect setting for a crime novel, then I’m damned if I know what is.

In Total Chaos, the first book, we meet Inspector Fabio Montale, son of Italian immigrants and one-time street thug. Now, as a policeman, his thuggish skills are only put to use in the service of justice.

When the daughter of Algerian immigrants is found murdered, Montale must solve the case in a hurry before sectarian violence can erupt. He has a problem in that he can’t trust his colleagues. He can’t trust them because they’re a bunch of racists and, even though he’s a bit rough around the edges himself, Montale is essentially a knight of justice.

“So much violence. If God existed, I’d have strangled him on the spot. Without batting an eyelid. And with all the fury of the damned.”

He’s a good guy with a broken heart. The Marseille he used to know has become so engrained with problems that he barely recognises it. Gang wars, racism and drugs have turned his beloved hometown into an intimidating sprawl of high-rise apartments.

To escape the grim truth, Montale indulges in La Dolce Vita. He gorges on the finest food the Mediterranean has to offer, washing it down with generous quantities of wine (Incidentally, if you’re hungry, don’t read this book – it’s a kind of torture you’ve never suffered before, trust me). Fed and watered, Montale likes nothing better to sit and look at the sea.

But he’s a busy man and he can’t delude himself forever. Soon he must leave the table and face the reality he’s been trying so desperately to ignore.

A lot of crime fiction tends to politely skirt around social issues, resigning them to footnotes in a more exciting plot. Jean-Claude Izzo moulded his stories around these issues and instead of ignoring them, they become the obstacles that Montale must overcome.

“Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.”

Aside from Montale, the main character in the trilogy is Marseilles itself. We can see a colourful and vibrant place, hear the noise and smell the food. It’s multitude of problems sits on one side of a scale but is counter-balanced by the sheer life bursting from its seams.

So give it a try, or you can pop along to Europa Editions’ website and browse through a whole catalogue of authors you’ve never heard of.

You’ll be glad you did!

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn: A Review

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn“Because you can’t be as in love as we were and not have it invade your bone marrow. Out kind of love can go into remission, but it’s always waiting to return. Like the world’s sweetest cancer.” 

Gillian Flynn hates people. That’s the over-riding feeling you have walking away from her latest success, Gone Girl.

Nick’s wife, Amy has gone missing. There are some signs of a struggle and although the police don’t have anything to go on, it’s only natural to assume that Nick was involved in the disappearance.

The book is divided into chapters, each one opening a window into the minds of the central characters. From this, we’re pretty sure Nick didn’t have anything to do with his wife’s disappearance, but he’s definitely hiding something.

As the plot opens up, more evidence is uncovered – evidence which further incriminates our clueless hero (if you can call him that). It becomes clear that someone is trying to set him up.

But Who?

And Why?

“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.”

Around the half-way point, just as things are really starting to go wrong for Nick, something changes. We, the jaded readers, catch a glimpse of the other side of a dark and tarnished coin, something that sheds a whole new light on the case.

That’s as much as I’ll say on that, but it’s a big twist and it sets the pace a little higher for the rest of the novel.

Now, I won’t say it’s the best book I’ve ever read. The characters are despicable to such a degree that it becomes impossible to identify with them. I will concede, however, that it deserves its success. It’s not a literary landmark but if you’re looking for a clever, psychological page-turner, it’s among the best in its genre.

“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.” 

Gone Girl is a very cynical story which poses a lot of questions about relationships.  The main lesson to be learned is that you can never truly know someone as much as you think you do and in Gillian Flynn’s world, that blind spot will be your inevitable undoing.

So don’t get married and if you can manage it, avoid all contact with the opposite sex. While you’re at it, you might as well shun your own gender because they can’t be trusted either. Keep your head down and mind your own business because you never know what you might unleash upon yourself.

For those who have read Gone Girl, Flynn’s other two novels (Sharp Objects, Dark Places) come recommended and, you’ll be pleased to hear, are both littered with dysfunction and darkness.

Fred Vargas: He’s a ‘she’, actually…

We’ve all been going a little mad for Fred Vargas in the shop lately. Now FOUR of us, including the manager are well equipped to personally recommend these superb crime novels to every single person who comes through the door.

Her name is Fred and who are we to argue!? Actually, her name is Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau but that’s just not as easy to remember. She’s an archaeologist by trade but every year, she takes time out and Frédérique becomes Fred.

The books feature Commissaire Adamsberg as the main character – a deep-thinking, hunch-following, super-cop. At the till, we refer to him as a ‘French Columbo’. None of us can agree as to what he looks like, but we’ve landed somewhere between a taller Sarkozy and a shorter Jimmy Nail.

If you like a good policier with an unpredictable twist, then Fred Vargas can be your new favourite author too.