Review: Maurizio de Giovanni – Viper

aa589d44bcbf750eb532944b45020caa-w2041xDaniela at Europa Editions has been kind enough to send me a few books by Maurizio de Giovanni to review which I’m finally getting around to. I’ve had my eye on the series for a while as the premise is fascinating. Commissario Ricciardi is a 1930s Naples detective with an unerring ability to see the last few moments before a victim’s death. Naturally his ‘gift’ isn’t sufficient to reveal the murderer but it does allow Riccardi to gain an insight into the victim’s state of mind before their death.

Viper is the sixth book in the series. In a high class brothel, a renowned prostitute is discovered, suffocated with a pillow. Some of her clients are well known Neapolitan residents and Ricciardo has to cut through the reticence of the brothel’s habitués as well as fellow sex workers to unearth the culprit.

As a murder story, the plot is straightforward and single stranded although it is well thought out. Suspects are tracked down and interviewed and the past of the dead girl, known as Viper, is disected. The straightforward plot allows de Giovanni to explore the characters of Ricciardo and his family and colleagues. Ricciardo is the subject of amorous attention from two women, the glamorous Livia who has relocated from Rome to Naples to be near him and Enrica who is learning Neapolitan cooking from Ricciardo’s grandmother, Rosa, as a means to gain Ricciardo’s attention. Unlike most literary love triangles this one has real bite and is clearly set to continue.

I found the description of thirties Naples as fascinating as the mystery. The killing takes place a week before Easter and we’re treated to descriptions of Italian Holy Week customs and food preparations. De Giovanni is a fantastic discovery and I’m looking forward to reading the series from the start as there’s plenty here to enthral the reader.

Massimo Carlotto – At the End of a Dull Day

Dulldaypic_1383942569This is the second book in a month that I’ve read where the violence has made me wince. But, like in Pierre LeMaitre’s Irene, the level of violence in At the End of a Dull Day seems proportionate to the setting and the oeuvre within which Massimo Carlotto writes.

Georgio Pellogrino, a protagnist in an earlier Carlotto novel, is leading a relatively straight existence running a popular restaurant in the Veneto area of Italy. Frequented by politicians and other members of polite Italian society, the restaurant comes under threat when Pelligrino discovers that a popular politician with Ministerial ambitions has lost two million of Pellegrino’s Euros in a Ponzi style scheme. He swears revenge and discovers a lost appetite for violence and killing.

Although, at 192 pages, this is a relatively short book, the narrative is densely packed in terms of both plot and characterisation. Pelligrino is an anti-hero of the traditional kind. His capacity for violence, especially towards women, is shocking but there’s a world weariness to him too. As readers we’re both shocked by the contempt with which he treats the women in his life and he absurd justifications he makes for doing so.

I found the narrative to be completely compelling and read it in virtually one sitting. In many ways this isn’t the style of book I normally read but I could only sit back and enjoy the stark brutality of Carlotto’s writing.

Thanks to Europa Editions for my review copy. The translator was Antony Shugaar .