A good detective story taking place in a beautiful part of Italy is a real treat for people who enjoy reading crime mysteries and also happen to love Italy. Use this website to find out more about the locations, the lifestyle and the food and the wine experienced by the characters created by your favourite authors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I Will Have Vengeance

A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery by Maurizio De Giovanni

The Naples waterfront in the 1930s, the era in which De Giovanni set his Commissario Ricciardi novels
The Naples waterfront in the 1930s, the era in which
De Giovanni set his Commissario Ricciardi novels
An intriguing detective story set in the dark days when Mussolini ruled Italy, I Will Have Vengeance is peopled by believable characters who live their lives in realistic settings.

But the novel is by a contemporary crime writer, Maurizio De Giovanni, and was published as recently as 2007.The setting is Naples in the year 1931 and De Giovanni manages to recreate the atmosphere of a city where poverty and wealth exist side by side with each other and officials are constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of Il Duce.

Much of the action takes place in Teatro di San Carlo, the city’s opera house. The story revolves around the world of opera, which De Giovanni obviously knows and understands well.

Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, who is from a noble background, is sent to investigate a sudden death at the theatre. He is a loner and remains aloof from most of the other officers, but has the reputation of being a brilliant detective.

The big thing the reader has to get his head round is that this enigmatic police officer can see dead people. From being a child, he had been able to see the dead and it has set him apart from everyone else. As the author explains: ‘Not all of them and not for long: only those who had died violently, and only for a period of time that revealed extreme emotion, the sudden energy of their final thoughts.’

Maurizio De Giovanni wrote his first stories while working in a bank
Maurizio De Giovanni wrote his
first stories while working in a bank
But by the end of the book, I had come to terms with Ricciardi’s special gift, having become more interested in following the story and seeing how he solved the case.

The greatest tenor the world has ever known, Arnaldo Vezzi, has been found dead in his dressing room at Teatro di San Carlo. Ricciardi and his loyal deputy, Maione, are quickly on the scene and immediately clash with the director of the theatre when they insist on setting up a professional police investigation.

Vezzi was adored by millions, including Il Duce, but is hated by everyone in the theatre and in his personal life because of his arrogance and bad temper. Ricciardi’s boss, the Vice Questore, wants a quick result, even if it is not the right result, but Ricciardi insists on investigating thoroughly in order to bring the actual killer to justice. It is a compelling story and is told brilliantly by De Giovanni.

The setting of Naples in 1931 is very realistically portrayed because De Giovanni remembers his parents sharing their memories of the city before World War II with him.

De Giovanni was born in 1958 in Naples. He worked in a bank and wrote stories as a hobby. His colleagues at the bank decided to enter one of his stories in a writing competition for unpublished writers without his knowledge and his short story, I vivi e i morti – The Living and the Dead, set in the 1930s and featuring Commissario Ricciardi, won the competition. This inspired him to write his first novel, Le lacrime del pagliaccio – The Tears of the Clown - which was later republished in English as I Will Have Vengeance – The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi.

The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where much of the action in I Will Have Vengeance takes place
The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where much of
the action in I Will Have Vengeance takes place
He followed this with Blood Curse – The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi in 2008, Everyone in Their Place – The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi in 2009 and The Day of the Dead – The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi in 2010. To date he has written 13 Commissario Ricciardi novels.

The author has created two fictional detectives, Commissario Ricciardi, who works in 1930s Naples, and Ispettore Lojacono, who has been transferred to present day Naples from his home town of Agrigento in Sicily, after being accused of associating with the Mafia.

In 2012, De Giovanni ventured into the noir genre with The Crocodile, which featured the first appearance by Ispettore Lojacono.

He was then inspired by the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain to write a police procedural, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone. His five Pizzofalcone novels have now been made into a television series by RAI, starring Alessandro Gassmann as Ispettore Lojacono.

De Giovanni’s novels have now been translated into English, Spanish, Catalan, French and German and have sold well over a million copies throughout Europe.

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Friday, February 4, 2022

The Potter’s Field

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri 


The fictional Montalbano's home is just a few yards from the sea on the Sicilian coast
The fictional Montalbano's home is just a few
yards from the sea on the Sicilian coast
As if investigating a suspected Mafia killing in atrocious weather isn’t difficult enough, Inspector Montalbano also finds himself having to solve the puzzle of the morose and quarrelsome behaviour of his friend and deputy, Mim
ì Augello, in this thirteenth novel in the police series set in Sicily.

After a terrifying dream in which the real-life Mafia boss, Totò Riina, has become prime minister and offers Montalbano the job of Minister of the Interior, the Inspector is woken by loud banging at his front door, where he finds one of his men, Catarella, who has come to his house to tell him about the discovery of a dead body. 

Under a relentless downpour, Montalbano and his men succeed in retrieving the body from where it has slid down a slope. It has been cut into pieces, put inside a bag and buried in a field of clay on the island, which is used by potters.

The Inspector has to find out the identity of the victim, why the body has been cut into 30 pieces and for what reason it has been left in The Potter’s Field. An added complication is a series of phone calls Montalbano receives from his long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Mimì’s wife, Beba, is in regular contact with Livia and has been telling her that Montalbano has been treating her husband very badly, requiring him to do regular all night stake outs, which is affecting their marriage.

Knowing there have been no recent all-night stake outs, the Inspector has no idea what is going on, but he allows Livia to believe that what she has been told is true to give him time to find out more about it. 

The Potter's Field is the 13th Montalbano novel
The Potter's Field is the 13th
Montalbano novel
He asks his Swedish friend, Ingrid, to follow Mimì to see where he goes at night, guessing he is probably seeing another woman. When Ingrid visits Montalbano’s apartment late at night to report back to him, the Inspector is terrified when the phone rings and it is Livia, who immediately senses someone is there with him.

The murder inquiry becomes more complicated when a beautiful South American woman comes to the police station to report that her husband is missing and Montalbano discovers that the man, a ship’s officer, just happens to be a distant relative of a local Mafia boss.

Discussing Mafia rituals with his officer, Fazio, leads to Montalbano recalling a passage from the Bible. He looks it up in the Gospel according to Matthew and reads the passage recounting the suicide of Judas, where he comes to the phrase ‘...the potter’s field to bury strangers in …’. 

Montalbano feels an actual shock go through his body as he finally has a clue about what lay behind the decision to cut the victim up in 30 pieces. 

But this time Montalbano not only has to solve a murder, he has to try to extricate Mimì from the trouble he is in. And he contrives to enable Mimì to take the credit for finding out who is responsible for the murder of the cut up body found in the potter’s field. 

It is a tall order, but Montalbano is cheered up by regularly eating at Enzo’s trattoria, where he consumes in just one of his meals whitebait, octopus, pasta with sea urchins and striped red mullet. 

He also finds the time to play a practical joke on his arch enemy, Pippo Ragonese, the top newsman at TeleVigàta

The Potter’s Field was first published in Italian as Il campo del vasaio in 2008. It was translated into English in 2011 by Stephen Sartarelli. I found it to be as ingenious as it was entertaining and would definitely recommend it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Raphael Affair

A crime mystery set in Rome served up with lashings of Italian culture

The Raphael Affair is the first of a series featuring Jonathan Argyll
The Raphael Affair is the first of
a series featuring Jonathan Argyll
This first novel of an Italian art history mystery series will delight many people who enjoy crime fiction with Italy as the backdrop.

Written by Iain Pears, an English art historian, novelist and journalist, The Raphael Affair introduces British art dealer Jonathan Argyll, who becomes a series character. He is brought to the attention of an Art Theft officer working for the Italian police, Flavia di Stefano, when he is caught breaking into a church in Rome.

A graduate student on holiday in Italy, Argyll had been arrested for vagrancy when he was found apparently trying to sleep in the church of Santa Barbara in the Campo dei Fiori.

When Flavia interviews him in English, she discovers that Argyll had gone to the church to examine a painting by Raphael that was hanging above the altar. He insists on making a full statement because he is convinced an enormous fraud has taken place.

He claims that the church contains a lost classic, hidden under another painting. When the picture vanishes, only to turn up in the hands of a British art dealer who claims it is a newly-discovered work by Raphael, his story gains some credibility.

Argyll and Flavia di Stefano join forces to find out whether the painting is a lost Raphael or not, but find themselves in danger when they come too close to discovering the truth.

Iain Pears has worked in Italy as a journalist
Iain Pears has worked in
Italy as a journalist
The Raphael Affair, which was first published in 1990, is a well-plotted story by Pears with sympathetic characters and its fair share of politics, corruption, suspense and sudden death. The outcome is surprising and sets up Argyll nicely to stay in Italy, see more of Flavia and appear in another novel.

Author Iain Pears was born in Coventry and educated at Oxford. He became a reporter for the BBC and then a correspondent for Reuters based in Italy, France and the US.

Following The Raphael Affair, Pears has published another six art mystery novels featuring art historian Jonathan Argyll. They are: The Titian Committee, The Bernini Bust, The Last Judgment, Giotto’s Hand, Death and Restoration and The Immaculate Deception.

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read The Raphael Affair, but now I can’t wait to get started on The Titian Committee!  

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Track of Sand

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri

Montalbano locates the scene of the crime by following a trail of hoofprints in the sand
Montalbano locates the scene of the crime by
following a trail of hoofprints in the sand
Inspector Montalbano finds himself distracted by a beautiful, female equestrian champion and also distraught when events conspire to prevent him enjoying good food, in this 12th book in the series.

The Inspector’s troubles begin when he finds the carcass of a dead horse on the beach in front of his house. When he gets close to it, he is overcome with rage. ‘The beast was all bloodied, its head broken open with some sort of iron bar, its whole body bearing the signs of a long, ferocious beating. There were deep, open wounds, pieces of flesh dangling. It was clear that the horse, battered as it was, had managed to escape and run desperately away until it could go no further.'

Montalbano follows the hoofprints to the spot where the horse had been beaten and discovers from the impressions in the sand that four people had been hitting the horse with iron bars, witnessed by two others, who had stood to one side, smoking.

He calls out his men and sends them to scour the beach for forensic evidence and then rings up City Hall to arrange for the carcass to be taken away. But while he and his men are having coffee in the house, the horse mysteriously vanishes, leaving only a track in the sand.

The Track of Sand is the 12th of Camilleri's Montalbano novels
The Track of Sand is the 12th of
Camilleri's Montalbano novels
Before long, Rachele, a glamorous horsewoman, turns up at police headquarters to report her horse missing. It had been stabled in the grounds of one of the richest men in Sicily, who had lost one of his horses as well.

Even though the case really belongs to officers working in another part of the island, Montalbano can’t resist investigating himself and he vows to track down the people responsible for this atrocity.

But it soon becomes obvious that he has upset someone, as thieves break into his home twice, once to steal a watch and once to put it back.

Coincidentally, Rachele is staying with Montalbano’s attractive Swedish friend, Ingrid, and the two women ask Montalbano to go with them to a fund-raising dinner, which, of course, he dreads. He knows in advance that the food will be awful and finds he is absolutely right. He returns home late at night looking forward to eating olives and anchovies from the fridge with some hard bread and plenty of wine. But he finds his house has been ransacked while he was out.

Montalbano and his officers work hard to unravel the mystery, track down the guilty parties and arrest them.

Then the Inspector races home to set the table on his veranda so he can sit down and enjoy a meal cooked by his housekeeper, Adelina, for himself, Ingrid and Rachele. He intends to savour the food, before explaining everything to them...

I am sure new readers and seasoned Camilleri fans alike will enjoy this 12th serving of Montalbano’s unorthodox investigative methods, melancholy self-reflection, Sicilian humour and perfectly cooked fish, all beautifully translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

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Friday, August 20, 2021

The Murdered Banker

The first Inspector De Vincenzi mystery by Augusto De Angelis

Augusto De Angelis's mystery The Murdered Banker is set in the Milan of the 1930s
Augusto De Angelis's mystery The Murdered
Banker
is set in the Milan of the 1930s

The Murdered Banker is a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction as it is the first detective story written by Augusto De Angelis, who is regarded by many as the father of the genre in Italy.

First published in 1935 in Italian as Il banchiere assassinato, the novel appeared at the peak of the British Golden Age of detective fiction, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori had launched their crime series in yellow (giallo) covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

There were no Italian authors on the first Mondadori list as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time.

However, journalist De Angelis did not agree, as he thought crime fiction was a natural result and product of the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about.

To begin with, Mussolini and his associates approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, they eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

The Pushkin Vertigo edition of The Murdered Banker
The Pushkin Vertigo edition
of The Murdered Banker
The Murdered Banker was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis featuring Inspector De Vincenzi, which he produced over just eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

De Angelis is therefore seen as the father of Italian crime fiction. It is interesting to see how many of the traits of his protagonist have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates made me think of Donna Leon’s Brunetti. His disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration also made me think of Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when De Vincenzi is on the night shift and is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, he receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address is horrified to discover it is in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money, which was due to be repaid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him.

De Vincenzi feels he doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

De Angelis wrote 20 Inspector De Vincenzi novels in just eight years
De Angelis wrote 20 Inspector De
Vincenzi novels in just eight years
Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancée, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Having visited Milan on many occasions, it was fascinating to read a novel set in the city in the 1930s, when gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night and treated La Scala almost like a club, where people in society could visit each other in their boxes during the opera.

The cultured and often emotional detective De Vincenzi became very popular with Italians, but the Fascist government considered his creator to be their enemy. De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned in 1943 accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist who beat him up so badly, the writer died of his wounds in 1944.

An English translation of The Murdered Banker by Jill Foulston was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016. 

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Hard-drinking investigator from Munich proves to be more erratic than Etna

Mario Giordano's mystery begins with a body on a Sicilian beach
Mario Giordano's mystery begins with a
body on a Sicilian beach
Auntie Poldi, a larger-than-life character and amateur sleuth, takes centre stage in this debut crime novel by German writer Mario Giordano.

Recently widowed, Poldi leaves her native Munich for Sicily where she has every intention of drinking herself comfortably to death in front of a sea view.

But fate intervenes when Poldi finds the body of her odd job man, Valentino, lying on the beach with his face blown away. She promises him there and then that she will find his killer and avenge his death and sets out to investigate, making some new friends, but also some enemies, along the way.

Sicily and the Sicilians provide a colourful backdrop for the novel and there is plenty of discussion about the island’s culinary specialities, such as who cooks the best pasta al nero di sepia and canoli alla crema di ricotta, and where to find the best oyster mushrooms and marzipan fruits.

Poldi also finds romance with the handsome Commissario Montana, with whom she forms an uneasy investigative partnership. She puts her own life in danger in order to find Valentino’s killer, spurred on by the extra incentive of wanting to solve the case before Montana.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is the first crime novel by the novelist and screenplay writer Mario Giordano. Born in Munich in 1963, Giordano studied psychology at the University of Dusseldorf and now lives in Cologne. The very readable English translation of the novel is by John Brownjohn.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions was first published in the UK in 2016 by Bitter Lemon Press and is the first of a crime series featuring the same character.

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(Picture credit: Sicily photo by papshmouth via Pixabay)


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Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Party in San Niccolò

A tale of dark deeds carried out against a backdrop of incredible beauty


Authors are praised by reviewers and readers if they describe the locations of their novels well, especially if they have chosen a famous city that is familiar to many people.

I have enjoyed many good novels set in Florence, but I don’t think I have ever appreciated the way an author has portrayed the city quite as much as I did while reading A Party in San Niccolò.

A Party in San Niccolò is a crime novel set in Florence
A Party in San Niccolò is a
crime novel set in Florence

Christobel Kent brings Florence to life in the novel and she reawakened many of my own memories of the city, reminding me that I also once went for an afternoon snack at Procacci in the Via de’ Tornabuoni and of the time when I first saw the Boboli gardens.

In A Party in San Niccolò, a young English woman, Gina, visits Florence for the first time and we see the city through her eyes. She is going to stay with an old friend, Jane, needing a rest from the demands of her husband and three young children.

Jane’s marriage to a handsome Italian architect, Niccolò, turns out not to be as perfect as it first seems and Gina also finds herself becoming involved in the problems of one of Niccolò’s daughters, Beatrice, who comes home in a state of shock after learning that her best friend has been found dead.

When Gina goes to Niccolò’s country villa for a few days, she makes an unpleasant discovery and soon finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation in the Tuscan countryside. She is helped by an English friend of the family, Frank, and although she is happily married, Gina finds herself drawn to him.

Throughout the whole novel we are told about a party due to happen at the end of the week to celebrate the birthday of Frances, one of the British expats in Florence.

As Gina and Frank uncover more evidence about the murder of Beatrice’s friend, the night of the party draws closer. Matters come to a head in a dazzling denouement as the characters meet up at the party, held in a beautiful garden in Florence that is evocatively described by Christobel Kent.

A Party in San Niccolò was Christobel Kent’s debut novel and was first published in 2003.

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