Wednesday, November 29, 2006



A meal always involves.....1. a table, 2. dishes, 3. hunger, 4. food, 5. water

Answer........ ?**

When you read Massimo Carlotto's The Master of Knots you realise the harsh perspective that the ex-fugitive, and ex-prisoner has of his Italy. His view is so very different from those of us who thankfully have only experienced her beauty, her history and her delicious food.

His is an angry book, and that anger jumps out at you from the pages. Frankly it is not a "pleasant" book and it probably is not intended to be, due to its subject matter and its general tone.
Marco Buratti [alias the Alligator] an ex-student, ex-prisoner and former blues singer is an unlicensed private detective. He has an obsession with the truth, and calvados, an interesting combination.
Marco and his two associates Beniamino Rossini, an old time gangster, and Max the memory, a left wing radical, take cases that others would reject. Rossini's criminal connections allow them to go into areas and take the investigations on routes the police would find impossible to travel.
In this book, Carlotto's second translated into English, Mariano Giraldi asks them to investigate the strange abduction of his wife, the beautiful Helena.
It soon becomes clear that the married couple have become deeply involved in the S&M scene. The Alligator, Rossini and Max must try and find the gang who are producing disgusting videos of women being tortured and killed.
The leader of the gang is known as the Master of Knots, and what seems thoroughly depressing is that these attractive women have entered the S&M scene, because they enjoy being dominated and punished.
At one stage Max, still an idealist, goes off to join the protests at the G8 meeting in Genoa. A description of police violence in a reaction to the demonstrators, who were apparently stirred up by agent provocateurs, gives Carlotto a chance to demolish the police and prison system in general.
Marco and Max have never handled a gun, but Rossini, is a violent gangster prepared to kill a lowlife, but who also sends flowers to little old ladies. He regards himself as some kind of later day Robin Hood dishing out justice, where there is only injustice.
He did remind me of the South London Richardson Gang, who tortured petty criminals, but never touched "civilians", and used this as justification for their actions.
Carlotto has obviously been scarred by his arrest for murder, his time on the run, his imprisonment and his wait for the eventual pardon. It is deeply ingrained in his work and I don't think this is a book you are meant to enjoy. But it is a book intended to make you think about politics, crime, society, and justice.
"Probably the best living Italian crime writer" Il Manifesto
** This question was part of an aptitude test for entry to the U.S. Naval Academy.
The correct answer is "4. food".
But a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma Ernest E. Evans, from personal experience no doubt and a different perspective answered "3. hunger".
Evans went on to reach the rank of Commander, and went down with his ship the USS Johnston in 1944 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf earning a posthumous Medal of Honor. [Naval History December 2006]

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Those lucky people who can understand Italian have a treat in store at the Camilleri Fan Club website with photos of Vigata and other goodies.
Go to:

and explore.

La Sicilia è terra di forti contrasti, anche dal punto di vista gastronomico.


Many crime writers use the experince gained in their work to help them achieve realism in their crime writing.

The classic example of this is Kathy Reich, a real life forensic anthropologist working in Montreal and Charlotte NC, who writes about Temperance Brennan, a fictional forensic anthropologist, who also works in Montreal and Charlotte NC.
P. D. James worked as an administrator in the National Health Service, and then in the Home Office working in the police department concerned with the forensic science service, and clearly used much of the knowledge she gained in such books as Shroud for a Nightingale, and The Dark Tower.

Among others Michael Connelly was a police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and Gianrico Carofiglio is an anti-Mafia judge and this certainly adds to the accuracy of their books.

But Massimo Carlotto has had more real experience of the criminal world than any other author I can think of.

In Padua on the 20th January 1976 a young girl, Margherita Magello was repeatedly stabbed, and left for dead. A young student radical , the 19 year old Massimo Carlotto came to her aid and became covered in her blood. She died and he was arrested, and charged with her murder.

Acquited and then convicted, there is no double jeopardy in Italy, he was advised by his lawyer to flee before the sentencing.
He went underground in Paris, and then South America, but was betrayed by a lawyer in Mexico. He was tortured following a case of mistaken identity, and then extradited to Italy.

He was imprisoned from 1985 to 1993, when he received a pardon from the President.
On his release he then wrote a semi-autobiographical novel Il Fuggiasco, the Fugitive, covering the almost 18 years between his arrest and his pardon.
He then went on to write some very hard nosed noir introducing the principal character Marco Buratti (alias Alligator) a former blues singer and prisoner, now an unlicensed detective, with an obsession for the truth and a taste for calvados.
In Italian crime novels while you may find the truth, you probably won't find justice.
"Sicilians like Jews speak by allusion, in parables or in metaphor. It was if the same circuits, the sociological process operates in both their minds.
A computer of distrust, of suspicion, of pessimism" Leonardo Sciascia
Coming soon a review of the Master of Knots.......
sourced from www., The Observer, Tobias Jones;London Review of Books

Friday, November 24, 2006


I may not be posting as much over the next few weeks. Because over on the far side of the world there is a contest taking place that will take a lot of my attention.

Today, in the eyes of many, he has become Australia's foremost folk–hero and a symbol of national pride. Certainly, Ned possessed qualities that far surpassed the other bushrangers of his era. He was an expert with a “running-iron” on stolen, unbranded stock and was a deadly–accurate shot with a revolver or a rifle. Despite being a largely self–educated man, he was surprisingly articulate, boasted an almost poetic turn of phrase and a sardonic sense of humour. Ned’s family meant everything to him and he was the man of the family at the age of twelve. He was fiercely loyal his friends and supporters, to the extent that he would risk his own skin to ensure the well-being of an ally.

"Surprisingly articulate" Australians may well have a lot to talk about .........It will be up to England's cricketers to cope with the "poetic turn of phrase".
I thought they called that "sledging"?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Not European Crime this time, but a first rate American crime novel.

I have read Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, a book which had fantastic reviews winning the 2006 Edgar.

Winning the Edgar in a quiet year is an achievement, but the other nominated novels in 2006 were by Michael Connelly, Thomas H Cook, Tess Gerritsen and George Pelecanos, a real group of heavyweights.

I set out frankly expecting to be disappointed as I thought it would be just another stock US crime story, and perhaps a bit downmarket from european crime fiction. I was very pleasantly surprised by the clever plot, and excellent pacing of the story.

In fact I thought it was a far tauter book than either of the last two Edgar winners that I have read.[2005California Girl, T Jefferson Parker; 2004 Resurrection Men, Ian Rankin].

Citizen Vince begins a few days before the 1980 Carter-Reagan Presidential election.
Marty Hagen is in the Federal Witness Protection Program really by default as he was only small fry and not connected to the mob, except by a large debt.
In his new persona as Vince Camden, a baker in Spokane, Washington State, he remains a petty criminal and runs a clever credit card scam.
But Vince dreams of a better life, and of taking that first step as a citizen by voting in the upcoming election.
Unfortunately Vince's lowlife associates want a bigger cut of the proceeds of his criminal enterprise, and bring in a contract killer to persuade him. When Ray, the killer, eliminates one of the associates, Vince has to go on the run returning to New York to straighten out his situation with the mob.
The Spokane Police send rookie detective Alan Dupree to look for Vince in New York, and the young cop he learns some harsh lessons about life and policing in the Big Apple.

Will Vince survive long enough to vote?
Will he and girlfriend, Beth, a prostitute who is studying for her real estate license, find a new life together?
Who will find Vince first the cops, or the killer?

The book races along with almost as many interesting characters as a Dickens novel. But it lives or dies with the character of Vince, the surprisingly thoughtful crook who reads Solzhenitsyn, and wants to vote for the first time . Frankly you can't help but like Vince, who seems more a victim of circumstance than a real villain.

But as Vince struggles with his problems always in the background is the election, and the hard gritty world of the USA during Jimmy Carter's presidency. The election and the posturing politicians become characters in the novel, and this adds to the sense of place that I feel is essential in a crime novel. I did spend some time in the USA in both 1979 and 1980, and can still remember the feeling of quiet desperation in the air.

General Douglas Macarthur said , "old soldiers never die they just fade away", but old politicians never fade away. They become experts on how to deal with the very problems they singularly failed to cope with when they were in office.

I found this book to be an excellent read and a deep, thought provoking example of good crime fiction. Life can be full of "sighs, regrets and ironies" and we can all make a "string of bad decisions", as have most of the characters in this story.
The climax of the book keeps you on the edge of your seat as the tension mounts, and mounts so I won't spoil it for you.
By the way some of the dialogue might not be that used by your maiden aunt, but mobsters, and cops, have a limited vocabulary, and I am sure it is accurate.

"People say it's because of the harsh winters in Spokane, which are a cross between upstate New York and Pluto."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I have noticed the last twelve crime books I read included six which are Italian.

A seventh the French prize winning book Holy Smoke by Tonino Benacquista is set almost entirely in Italy.

"This sort of sadness has always prevailed among intelligent Italians, but most of them to escape suicide or madness, have taken to every known means of escape......a passion for women, for food....above all for fine sounding words."
Ignazio Silone [quoted in The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones]

Perhaps crime fiction reading is my and women are too exciting.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Detectives beyond Borders Peter is involved in an interesting discussion, some of it in Italian, over whether Rome is tranquillo or not.

"Mongai says in the interview that Rome seems like a tranquil city, where one can live a pleasant life."

So I could not resist showing two faces of this beautiful city. The city of religion and the city of heavily armed police.

Mongai sounds like another author I will have found through Detectives beyond Borders recommendations.
Of course the credit for the original contact is due to It's A Crime (or a mystery...)

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I am not abandoning my eurocentric focus, but thought I should take a brief sabbatical to read Citizen Vince by Jess Walter.

This novel did win the Edgar beating out Thomas Cook's Red Leaves, and Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer and with reviews like these........

"Utterly inventive ... excruciatingly breathless ... you just have to read it." WASHINGTON POST
"It's been a long time since I've read a book as compulsively, indeed greedily, as I read Citizen Vince." RICHARD RUSSO
"Wonderfully written ... hard to forget." LOS ANGELES TIMES"
Citizen Vince is fast, tough, thoughtful and funny. I loved this novel." NICK HORNBY
I am ready for something exceptional.


Thanks to It's a Crime (or a mystery...) for this news about :

Siamo Roma which has an interview with Massimo Mongai on one of its pages, within the culture section.
Mongai is yet to be published in English, but I'm told he's well-known in Italy and that he won the Urania Award in 1997. The interview is mostly about his new crime novel, and the appeal of writing crime fiction set in Rome.


Fifty-seven Mafia members who were close to supremo Bernardo Provenzano have been jailed for a total of 300 years, Italian media say.
A judge in Palermo, Sicily, convicted them for protecting Provenzano while he was in hiding.
Others were implicated in managing Mafia funds.
Provenzano, 73, spent four decades on the run before being arrested in April at an isolated farm near Corleone, close to Palermo.
Among the 57 convicted people, one group is said to have organised for Provenzano to travel to southern France to receive cancer treatment under an assumed identity.
Nicola Mandala, who was accused of planning the trip, was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison.
The longest jail sentences of 18 years were given to Benedetto Spera, a Mafia boss who controlled a region near Palermo, and Onofrio Morreale.
The trial was a fast-track one, whereby sentences are reduced when defendants enter a guilty plea.
[From the BBC]
Gianrico Carofiglio discusses the "fast-track" trial in his first book Involuntary Witness, and I expect he knows the " Judge in Palermo"; a good title for a crime novel?
These anti-Mafia task groups are certainly very brave people.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


The second book in a series is sometimes much weaker than the first, but in the case of Gianrico Carofiglio he has avoided this sophomore jinx.

In fact I enjoyed A Walk In The Dark even more than Involuntary Witness.

Once again Guido Guerrieri, a lawyer in Bari, has taken on an unpopular and difficult case. While his first book dealt with racism this one tackles the subject of violence against women.

"When Martina Fumai accuses her ex-boyfriend-the son of a powerful local judge-of assault and battery......"

Other lawyers have refused to take on the case fearful of the effect on their career prospects, but of course Guido with his virulent hatred of injustice accepts , although not without trepidation.

The case against Scianatico, the judge's son, is the glue that holds the book together but we also get a lot of background concerning Guido's relationships and former life, and these little vignettes add considerably to the atmosphere and feel of the story.

Integral to this book is Guido's new relationship with Sister Claudia, the mysterious nun, who is in charge of the women's shelter where Martina was staying, and who is a martial arts expert. Guido has taken up boxing as a relaxation and so they share this interest in physical sports. His girlfriend Margherita has started a parachute jumping course, not Guido's scene.

The Observer remarks that Carofiglio "has the audacity to reveal both a flawed legal system and debunk the myth of the macho Italian man". Well I am not sure that the legal system is flawed, perhaps it is the people who operate it that are the problem. Guido is no myth, he is a man who cares about real friends, justice, and relationships. He is not that sure of himself, and I think that is why I like and can believe in the character.

I do hope Gianrico Carofiglio, the anti-Mafia judge who created Guido Guerrieri, the lawyer with a heart, has a long life and writes a lot more books.

"Strategy is the art of paradox" Sun Tzu [The Art of War]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I am reading A Walk In The Dark, and am enjoying it immensely.

Review to follow soon........


Cache [Hidden]

Michael Haneke's astonishing psychological drama/thriller.......

This is how our local cinema billed one of their 10th birthday celebration films at only £1 to members. The film had won a plethora of awards, nominations and critics praise at film festivals from Cannes to Chicago, therefore we decided we must take advantage of the low price and see this French thriller.

Georges, who hosts a TV literary review, receives packages containing videos of himself with his family--shot secretly from the street--and alarming drawings whose meaning is obscure. He has no idea who may be sending them. Gradually, the footage on the tapes becomes more personal, suggesting that the sender has known Georges for some time. Georges feels a sense of menace hanging over him and his family but, as no direct threat has been made, the police refuse to help....

I hate being negative about any creative project, because no one deliberately sets out to make a bad film, or write a bad book.
But frankly this film was boredom taken to such a new level that almost the entire audience had nodded off, when something extremely shocking happened after about 90 minutes. They were then able to resume their catatonic state as the film slowly meandered on to a very welcome conclusion.
There is a difference between the subtle use of atmosphere to create tension, and the self indulgent use of such a slow lethargic pace that even I could follow the sparse French dialogue without the subtitles.
I am still dazed by the whole experience and I was not alone..........even Juliette Binoche could not rescue this dire rubbish, and I assume it was the political message and the pseudo artistic "atmosphere" that won it the awards.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


From the Crime Writers Association website:

In the light of ever-rising expenses regarding the operation of the Crime Writers' Association annual Dagger Awards, the CWA has had to make an important change to the rules regarding entries. With effect from this judging year (2006-2007), it will be a condition of entry that all publishers whose books appear on any of the Dagger shortlists agree to pay a contribution towards the CWA's costs of running the awards – the judging process, publicity and promotion, and in particular organising the Awards Dinner.
This step will bring our awards into line with similar rules for other literary awards – which in some cases charge considerably more. The cost of organising the Dagger Awards currently costs the CWA several thousand pounds, an outlay which we are finding increasingly difficult to meet. The income generated by these charges will not cover the full costs of the Dagger Awards, and the CWA will pay the remainder. While publishers and authors can clearly benefit from being shortlisted for – and particularly winning – one of our Daggers, the CWA gains no benefit. We cannot expect any of our sponsors to help with these expenses

Isn't that what sponsorship is about?
I never realised that publishers had to pay when their books are short listed for awards. I thought the sponsors covered the cost of the award dinners and the whole jamboree.

It just shows how naive I am, and obviously the monetary size of an award gets a lot more publicity for the sponsor than paying for the "cheaper chicken" dinner.

"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"


Saturday, November 11, 2006


Guido Guerrieri names House Of Games as one of his ten favourite films, in the opening chapters of A Walk In The Dark, the sequel to Involuntary Witness.

I agree, this film is a brilliant study of con men and their clever scams. Marking the directorial debut of David Mamet it stars the delicious Lindsay Crouse, as a psychiatrist and the not so delicious Joe Mantegna, as the skilled con artist.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Involuntary Witness is the debut novel of Gianrico Carofiglio, an anti-Mafia judge in the southern Italian port city of Bari.

The book, another from the clever publishers at Bitter Lemon Press, has won a number of literary awards such as the Marisa Rusconi and the Rhegium Julii prizes, and is the basis of a television series in Italy.

Guido Guerrieri, a 38 year old lawyer recently seperated from his wife and in the midst of a nervous breakdown is asked to defend Abdou Thiam, a Senegalese peddler, on the charge of murdering a 9 year old boy.
The book tells the powerful story of Guido's struggle both to straighten out his own life, and also to prevent Abdou being sent to prison for life.

It is a unusual book for a crime novel, because there is only a very superficial attempt to investigate the crime. While called a "powerful attack on racism" on the back cover it seems equally to be an indictment of the Italian judicial system.

The key to the book is the character of Guido, as someone who is both believable and extremely likeable. The first person narrative format is not my favourite but in this case you are immediately drawn in to Guido's world. You become really involved in his hopes for a future, while he changes from hard cynical loser into a caring human being.
I could identify easily with someone whose life changed so dramatically at 38, and there is the genesis of a romance in the book.
Guido is a lawyer who finds he has a heart after all.

This is a very intelligent literary novel, full of humour, and although I was slightly disappointed by the ending I jumped right into the sequel "A Walk In The Dark".

"What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly." Lao-tzu, The Way of Virtue

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I have finally started reading Gianrico Carofiglio's highly praised book Involuntary Witness, and the early signs are good. I will have trouble after so many years of Guido Brunetti in Venice to get used to Guido Guerrieri in Bari.
Guerrieri is a defence lawyer, who is making the long journey from cynical time server to fighter against injustice. He has a raft of personal problems, and a healthy distrust of the Italian legal system.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


A change of topic and continent but news that brings back fond memories of the scenic drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and then on to Taos Pueblo.

I also remember Chinle, where we stayed in a motel so spotlessly clean it put our UK hotels to shame, and Canyon De Chelly a magical place in the heart of Navajo territory.

Thanks to Sarah Weinman at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind for the news:

The Tony Hillerman Prize for First Mysteries

Have a mystery set in the Southwest? Looking to get it published? Then this contest might be the one for you:
WORDHARVEST Writers workshops and Thomas Dunne Books will present a new annual award for mystery fiction, The Tony Hillerman Prize, in 2007.
The first winner will be announced in November, 2007 at the fourth annual Tony Hillerman Writers Conference: Focus on Mystery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The award will go to a first mystery novel set in the Southwest written by a previously unpublished mystery author. The winning novel will be published by Thomas Dunne Books.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with Thomas Dunne Books, a publisher long known for its passion for mysteries, to honor an unpublished author who uses the Southwest as his or her setting,” Anne Hillerman said. “We look forward to joining forces with Thomas Dunne Books and recognizing a new award winner at our banquet for years to come.”

Monday, November 06, 2006


From the back cover of the Penguin Crime Edition The Terrorists written in 1975:

An interesting article about Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo can be found at : ttp://

There is a lot information about the couple, and the philosophy behind the 10 books.

I was particularly intrigued by this charming passage:

They married next year [1962] and the carefully planned crime series was created in the evenings, after their two sons, Tetz and Jens, had been put to bed.

Here are the complete series of books with those that I have read starred.

1965- Roseanna*
1966 - The Man Who Went Up in Smoke*
1967 - The Man on the Balcony*
1968 - The Laughing Policeman*
1969 - The Fire Engine That Disappeared
1970 - Murder at the Savoy
1971 - The Abominable Man
1972 - The Locked Room*
1974 - Cop Killer*
1975 - The Terrorists*

"I hope more of the King of Sweden's own person than of all his country......he is all and worth all."
Thomas Roe on Gustavus Adolphus quoted in The Thirty Years War;C.V.Wedgewood

By the way anyone who visits Stockholm should not miss the Vasa Museum. The loss of this great warship in 1628 on its maiden voyage was the Titanic disaster of the 17th century.
I think it is time to move on to a warmer climate, perhaps Southern Italy, but I will await the 2007 reprints of Sjowall and Wahloo with great anticipation.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Detective Chief Inspector Martin Beck, head of the National Homicide Squad, is recovering from a near fatal bullet wound and his first case on returning to work involves the investigation of a suspected suicide found in a locked room. The victim has apparently managed to shoot himself without there being a gun in the room. The conduct of the case prior to Martin Beck's return has been abysmal.

Meanwhile Kollberg, Ronn and Gunvald Larsson are working on the special bank robbery squad under the command of District Attorney "Bulldozer" Olsson. The incompetence of this accident prone squad assumes Keystone Cops proportions, but Olsson remains supremely confident of his own very limited abilities.

We also follow the antics of the gang of bank robbers, led by Werner Roos, who are the prime target of Bulldozer and his merry men. The irony is that two of the gang, Malmstrom and Mohren were under lock and key in the supposedly escape proof prison at Kumla, but failed to return after they were granted weekend parole.
"Well we can't really keep people locked up in one room with a TV set for all eternity, can we?"

Roos, Malmstrom and Mohren are planning one huge robbery before they retire to enjoy their ill gotten gains.

The humour in the book is at times savage, and the social comment could easily have been made today about much of Europe. Sometimes you have shake yourself and remember that the book was written in 1972, when most people still thought Sweden was a socialist paradise.

"From this ultramodern colossus in the heart of Stockholm the police would extend their tentacles in every direction and hold the dispirited citizens of Sweden in an iron grip. At least some of them. After all, they couldn't all emigrate or commit suicide."
"Instead he intended to get into the dairy business.Smuggling Danish butter into Italy was amazingly profitable. Moreover it was virtually legal; its only real risk lay in the possibility of being liquidated by the Mafia...."
The book reeks of Scandinavia with its dark humour, and cast of self centered characters, who seem to speak in almost clipped half strangled voices.
Above all the sharp contrast between Martin Beck's lonely meticulous detection, and the blundering Bulldozer Olsson with all his massive resources make this book a very enjoyable and interesting read.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I have always compared in my mind any police procedural crime novel with those of the Swedish married couple, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

They wrote ten novels featuring detective Martin Beck between 1965 and 1975. They were the gold standard as far as I was concerned.

In fact I had only read six of the books, and they sit on the shelf in my study [a grand name for a large cupboard] in a position of honour. I purchased two of the series in second hand bookshops, and remember my joy at finding the nearly thirty year old paperbacks for a few pence.

Next to them sat a new unread copy of The Locked Room [1972], purchased last year, which I was going to wait to read till 2007, when the other 3 books I don't have are to be republished.

Glenn Harper at International Noir had posted an interesting article about Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander and Martin Beck mentioning that he had read all ten Sjowall and Wahloo books straight through, and obviously admired them greatly.

I realised that I had not read any of my Martin Becks for a very long time, certainly over 15 years.

Perhaps I was scared to read the unread book in case it did not meet that gold standard that I had in my memory.

After all since then I had read Mankell, Indridason, Fossum, Camilleri, Leon, Vargas, Connelly, Mosley, Crais, Pelecanos, Rendell, PD James and many more.

How would a 34 year old book such as The Locked Room, and Martin Beck compare with the more modern books and detectives?
Well Glen's article prompted me to begin reading The Locked Room, and I am now 50 pages in.
My memory was not faulty, it is gold standard fare. In fact it is hard to believe that the book is 34 years old, but it is immediately apparent how other writers were influenced by the style.
The combination of pure detection, and savage social commentary, delivered with such wit and humour is just crime writing at its best.