6 Italian Detectives Who Leave Scandi Noir in the Shade
Italian crime fiction can be broadly divided into two categories. There are the books written by Italian writers, including ex-judges and ex-policemen like Michele Giuttari and Gianfranco Carofiglia. These authors have a compelling ring of authenticity to them. The theory is that Italian journalists can no longer risk writing the truth about life and politics in Italy, rife as it is with rampant corruption and unsavoury shenanigans. It is the writers of so-called fiction who take up the slack.
The Italian Italian detectives tend to be broody and disheartened, their creators dwelling more on morality than plot. They seem more interested in analysing motives, asking why the dirty deed was done, having long forsaken the fantasy of putting the bad guys behind bars.
These courageous writers also run the gauntlet of an inconsistent quality of translation. Overly strict translation into English sometimes removes the very Italian-ness that readers, readers like me, may be seeking. Nonetheless, when they get it all right, the real Italian detectives offer a view into the dark heart of Italy and the soul of man.
Then, there are the books written in English by authors who appreciate that everything, food, romance, and even bloody murder, goes down easier when set in sun-drenched Italy and served with a Campari Soda. The combined forces of the mafia, the Vatican and the multi-faceted Italian personality provide ample material for the crime author in search of a setting.
British author Timothy Williams set the ball gently rolling with his Commissario Trotti series. Michael Dibdin created his Venice-born Commissario, Aurelio Zen, in the mid 1980s but he was rapidly overtaken by American Donna Leon’s middle brow Venetian juggernaut, Commissario Brunetti. More recently, Nadia Dalbuono has upped the game with her mafia-connected, flying squad hero, Leone Scamarcio.
With a new wave of convincing Italian crime authors (Piergiorgio Pulixi, Luigi Romolo Carrino, Pasquale Ruju, Luca Poldelmengo) ripe for translation and tackling contemporary themes of immigration and austerity, we may expect Mediterranean Noir to leave Scandi crime in the shade.