Giancarlo de Cataldo
Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction (2005)
edited by Giancarlo de Cataldo translated by Andrew Brown
After getting sucked into Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, when I came across this anthology of Italian crime fiction I decided to branch out and see what it had to offer. The fact that it contained an Andrea Camilleri story didn’t hurt either.
I started the first story, and then put the book down for months. Finally, I decided to just move onto the second story and see if I liked that any better, at which point I ended up finishing the rest of the stories rather quickly.
Never did go back and finish the first story.
That aside, there were several stories I very much liked, and wonder if those authors are translated into English.
First things first, Italian mysteries are very different from your average American and British mysteries. Sometimes the crime isn’t truly resolved in the end, and sometimes the guilty go free or the innocent (or those you perhaps think are innocent) end up worse than when they started.
But the story telling–once you adjust your expectations of the tales–is very good. (Well, with the exception of the first story, which just bugged me.)
These stories may not be for everyone, in fact I’m pretty certain my grandmother won’t like them, but if you’re willing to branch out, I think you’ll enjoy most of the stories.
The story I believe I liked the best was Giancarlo de Cataldo’s story, “The Boy Who Was Kidnapped by the Christmas Fairy.” Adriana wanted to be an actress, but is now trying to avoid becoming a prostitute. So when her friend Giangilberto asks her to help him “trick” a friend of his, she agrees, since the price is good. She is to wrangle a young boy named Carlo away from his mother, entertain him for the day, and then later in the evening drop him off at his home, ring the bell, and disappear before the mother sees her. What Adriana–who desperately needs the money–manages not to see is that she’s actually involved in a kidnapping. Silly? On the face of it yes. But it was still a very good story and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Especially Vitas.
I also liked Sandrone Dazieri’s story, “The Last Gag.” Sammy was a comic who had a good gig going, until things fell apart–much in the expected manner of talented and rising stars who come into dollars and lose their sense. Despite his apst–or perhaps because of it–I liked Sammy as a narrator, and although the mystery took a bit to get going, once it did I was sucked in (sucked in to the point that I couldn’t put the story down when I really should have been going to bed.)
I also enjoyed the stories “What’s Missing?” by Marcello Fois, “The Third Shot” by Carlo Lucarelli, and “Death of an Informer” by Massimo Carlotto. These are sort of police procedurals, except that the Carabinieri are not parallel counterparts to American and British police. These stories are also quite open about the existence of corruption in Italy.
If you’d like to try something different, I recommend checking out Crimini.