To celebrate the publication of Gianrico Carofiglio’s The Cold Summer (trans. by Howard Curtis, Bitter Lemon Press), we have an exclusive extract from the novel on ‘Mrs Peabody Investigates’ today.
And if that weren’t enough of a treat, UK readers also have the opportunity to see Gianrico Carofiglio live in conversation next week. He’ll be appearing on Wednesday 19th September at Waterstones in Bath, and on Thursday 20th September at the Italian Cultural Institute in London. Do come along if you get the chance!
For those of you who’ve not yet discovered Carofiglio’s work: he is one of Italy’s best known crime writers, whose novels draw on his experiences as a prosecutor specializing in organized crime. As well as examining the role of the Mafia in Italy, and response of the Italian police and judiciary to its diverse threats, Carofiglio’s works explore contemporary issues such as immigration, racism and justice – as seen in his acclaimed novel Involuntary Witness, featuring defence counsel Guido Guerrieri.
The Cold Summer is the first of Carofiglio’s works to feature Pietro Fenoglio, a Carabinieri officer working in Bari, Puglia (in southern Italy, just at the top of its heel). The novel is set in the cold summer of 1992, which was ‘cold’ not just because of its unseasonable temperatures, but because it was the summer in which two prominent Sicilian anti-Mafia prosecutors were killed – a major setback in the fight against organized crime.
The novel focuses on the local Mafia wars in Puglia in the early 1990s, and is based on true events. Fenoglio, at a melancholy ebb after being left by his wife, is asked to investigate the killing of a Mafia boss’s son. The most likely suspect is a rival member of the Mafia, but something about the case doesn’t feel right to Fenoglio, who probes further, with the help of his colleague Pellecchia.
A hard-hitting and multilayered novel, The Cold Summer gives readers a fascinating, detailed insight into the workings of the Mafia and the judicial system, as well as showing the enormous pressures faced by the police and public prosecutors when battling organized crime. It’s absorbing and gripping in equal measure, and the central investigative character of Fenoglio, as the extract below shows, is a complex and intriguing one.
Extract from The Cold Summer
Translated by Howard Curtis, Bitter Lemon Press 2018. Reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.
Act One – Days of Fire
Fenoglio walked into the Caffè Bohème with the newspaper he’d just bought in his jacket pocket and sat down at the table by the window. He liked the place because the owner was a music lover and every day chose a soundtrack of famous romantic arias and orchestral pieces. That morning, the background was the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, and given what was happening in the city, Fenoglio wondered if it was just coincidence.
The barman made him his usual extra-strong cappuccino and brought it to him together with a pastry filled with custard and black cherry jam.
Everything was the same as ever. The music was discreet but quite audible to those who wanted to listen to it. The regular customers came in and out. Fenoglio ate his pastry, sipped at his cappuccino and skimmed through the newspaper. The main focus of the local pages was the Mafia war that had suddenly broken out in the northern districts of the city and the unfortunate fact that nobody – not the police, not the Carabinieri, not the judges – had any idea what was going on.
He started reading an article in which the editor himself, with a profusion of helpful advice, informed the law enforcement agencies how to tackle and solve the phenomenon. Finding the article engrossing and irritating in equal measure, he did not notice the young man with the syringe until the latter was already standing in front of the cashier and yelling, in almost incomprehensible dialect, “Give me all the money, bitch!”
The woman didn’t move, as if paralysed. The young man held out the hand with the syringe until it was close to her face. In an impressively hoarse voice, he told her he had AIDS and yelled at her again to give him everything there was in the till. She moved slowly, her eyes wide with terror. She opened the till and started taking out the money, while the young man kept telling her to be quick about it.
Fenoglio’s hand closed over the robber’s wrist just as the woman was passing over the money. The young man tried to jerk round, but Fenoglio made an almost delicate movement – a half turn – twisting his arm and pinning it behind his back. With the other hand, he grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back.
“Throw away the syringe.”
The young man gave a muffled growl and tried to wriggle free. Fenoglio increased the pressure on his arm and pulled his head back even further. “I’m a carabiniere.” The syringe fell to the floor with a small, sharp sound.
The cashier began crying. The other customers started to move, slowly at first, then at a normal speed, as if waking from a spell.
“Nicola, call 112,” Fenoglio said to the barman, having ruled out the idea that the cashier might be in a fit state to use the telephone.
“Down on your knees,” he said to the robber. From the polite tone he used, he might have been expected to add: “Please.”
As the young man knelt, Fenoglio let go of his hair but kept hold of his arm, although not roughly, almost as if it were a procedural formality.
“Now lie face down and put your hands together behind your head.”
“Don’t beat me up,” the young man said.
“Don’t talk nonsense. Lie down, I don’t want to stay like this until the car arrives.”
The young man heaved a big sigh, a kind of lament for his misfortune, and obeyed. He stretched out, placing one cheek on the floor, and put his hands on the back of his neck with almost comical resignation.
In the meantime, a small crowd had gathered outside. Some of the customers had gone out and told them what had happened. People seemed excited, as if the moment had come to fight back against the current crime wave. Some were yelling. Two young men walked into the café and made to approach the robber.
“Where are you going?” Fenoglio asked.
“Give him to us,” said the more agitated of the two, a skinny, spotty-faced fellow with glasses.
“I’d be glad to,” Fenoglio said. “What do you plan to do with him?”
“We’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again,” the skinny fellow said, taking a step forward.
“Have we ever had you down at the station?” Fenoglio asked them, with a smile that seemed friendly.
Taken aback, the man did not reply immediately. “No, why?”
“Because I’ll make sure you spend all day there, and maybe all night, too, if you don’t get out of here right now.” The two men looked at each other. The spotty-faced young man stammered something, trying not to lose face; the other shrugged and gave a grimace of superiority, also trying not to lose face. Then they left the café together. The little crowd dispersed spontaneously.
A few minutes later, the Carabinieri cars pulled up outside and two uniformed corporals and a sergeant came into the café and saluted Fenoglio with a mixture of deference and unconscious wariness. They handcuffed the robber and pulled him bodily to his feet.
“I’m coming with you,” Fenoglio said, after paying the cashier for the cappuccino and the pastry, heedless of the barman’s attempts to stop him.
“I’ve seen you somewhere before,” Fenoglio said, turning to the back seat and addressing the young man he had just arrested.
“I used to stand near the Petruzzelli in the evening when there was a show on. I parked people’s cars. You must have seen me there.”
Of course – that was it. Up until a few months earlier he had been an unlicensed car park attendant near the Teatro Petruzzelli. Then the theatre had been destroyed in a fire and he had lost his job. That was how the young man put it: “I lost my job,” as if he had been working for a company and they’d dismissed him or closed down. So he’d started selling cigarettes and stealing car radios.
“But you make hardly anything at that. I’m not up to doing burglaries, so I thought I could rob places with the syringe.”
“Congratulations, a brilliant idea. And how many robberies have you committed?”
“I haven’t committed any, corporal, would you fucking believe it? This was my first one and I had to run into you, for fuck’s sake.”
“He isn’t a corporal, he’s a marshal,” the carabiniere at the wheel corrected him. “Sorry, marshal. You aren’t in uniform, so I had no idea.
I swear it was my first time.”
“I don’t believe you,” Fenoglio said. But it wasn’t true. He did believe him, he even liked him. He was funny: his timing when he spoke was almost comical. Maybe in another life he might have been an actor or a stand-up, instead of a petty criminal.
“I swear it. And besides, I’m not a junkie and I don’t have AIDS. That was all bullshit. I can’t stand needles. If talking bullshit is a crime, then they should give me a life sentence, because I talk a lot of it. But I’m just an idiot. Put in a good word for me in your report, write that I came quietly.”
“Yes, you did.”
“The syringe was new, you know, I just put a bit of iodine in it to look like blood and to scare people.”
“You do talk a lot, don’t you?”
“Sorry, marshal. I’m shitting my pants here. I’ve never been to prison.”
Fenoglio had a strong desire to let him go. He would have liked to tell the carabiniere at the wheel: stop and give me the keys to the handcuffs. Free the boy – he still didn’t know his name – and throw him out of the car. He had never liked arresting people, and he found the very idea of prison quite disturbing. But that’s not something you broadcast when you’re a marshal in the Carabinieri. Of course, there were exceptions, for certain crimes, certain people. Like the fellow they’d arrested a few months earlier, who’d been raping his nine-year-old granddaughter – his daughter’s daughter – for months.
In that case, it had been hard for him to stop his men from dispensing a bit of advance justice, by way of slaps, punches and kicks. It’s tough sometimes to stick to your principles.
It was obvious he couldn’t free this young man. That would be an offence – several offences in fact. But similarly absurd ideas went through his head increasingly often. He made a decisive gesture with his hand, as if to dismiss these troublesome thoughts, almost as if they were entities hovering in front of him.
“What’s your name?” “Francesco Albanese.”
“And you say you’ve never been inside?” “Never, I swear.”
“You were obviously good at not getting caught.”
The young man smiled. “Not that I ever did anything special. Like I said, a few cigarettes, a few cars, spare parts.”
“And I guess you sell a bit of dope, too, am I right?” “Okay, just a bit, where’s the harm in that? You’re not arresting me for these things as well now, are you?”
Fenoglio turned away to look at the road, without replying. They got to the offices of the patrol car unit and Fenoglio quickly wrote out an arrest report. He told the sergeant who had come on the scene to complete the papers for the Prosecutors’ Department and the prison authorities, and to inform the assistant prosecutor. Then he turned to the robber. “I’m going now. You’ll appear before the judge later this morning. When you talk to your lawyer, tell him you want to plea-bargain. You’ll get a suspended sentence and you won’t have to go to prison.”
The young man looked at him with eyes like those of a dog grateful to its master for removing a thorn from its paw. “Thank you, marshal. If you ever need anything, I hang out between Madonnella and the Petruzzelli – you can find me at the Bar del Marinaio. Anything you want, I’m at your disposal.”
This second reference to the Teatro Petruzzelli put Fenoglio in a bad mood. A few months earlier someone had burned it down, and he still couldn’t get over it. How could anyone even think of such an act? To burn down a theatre. And then there was the absurd, almost unbearable fact – God alone knew if it was a coincidence or if the arsonists had wanted to add a touch of macabre irony – of burning it down after a performance of Norma, an opera that actually ends with a funeral pyre.
The Petruzzelli was one of the reasons he liked – had liked? – living in Bari.
That huge theatre which could hold two thousand people, just ten minutes on foot from the station where he worked. Often, if there was a concert or an opera, Fenoglio would stay in the office until evening and then go straight there and up to the third tier, among the friezes and the stucco. When he was there, he could almost believe in reincarnation. He felt the music so intensely – that of some composers, above all baroque ones, especially Handel – that he imagined that in another life he must have been a kapellmeister in some provincial German town.
And now that the theatre was gone? God alone knew if they would ever rebuild it, and God alone knew if those responsible would ever be tracked down, tried and sentenced. The Prosecutor’s Department had opened a case file to investigate “arson by persons unknown”. A good way of saying that they hadn’t the slightest idea what had happened. Fenoglio would have liked to handle the investigation, but it had been entrusted to others, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
“All right, Albanese. Don’t do anything stupid. Not too stupid, anyway.” He gave him a slap on the shoulder and walked off in the direction of his own office.
At the door he found a young carabiniere waiting for him. “The captain wants to speak to you. He’d like you to go to his office.”
Captain Valente was the new commanding officer of the Criminal Investigation Unit. Fenoglio hadn’t yet decided if he liked the man or was made uncomfortable by him. Perhaps both. He was certainly different from the other officers he’d had to deal with during his twenty years in the Carabinieri.
He had arrived only a few days earlier, bang in the middle of this criminal war that didn’t yet make sense to anyone. He came from Headquarters in Rome, and nobody knew why he had been sent to Bari.
“Come in, Marshal Fenoglio,” the captain said as soon as he saw him at the door.
That was one of the things that puzzled him: Captain Valente addressed everyone formally, always using rank and surname. The unnamed rule of behaviour for officers is that you use rank and surname towards your superiors and call your subordinates by their surnames, or even their first names. And of course, among those of the same rank, first-name terms are the rule. Among non-commissioned officers, things are less clear, but in general it’s rare to find the commanding officer of a unit being so formal with all his men.
Why did he behave in that way? Did he prefer to keep a distance between himself and his subordinates? Was he a particularly formal man? Or particularly shy?
“Good morning, sir,” Fenoglio said.
“Please sit down,” Valente said, motioning him to a chair. That combination of formality and cordiality was hard to make sense of. Then there was the decor of the room: no pennants, no crests, no military calendars; nothing to suggest that this was the office of a captain in the Carabinieri. There was a TV set, a good-quality stereo, a sofa and some armchairs; a small refrigerator and some pictures in an expressionistic style, somewhat in the manner of Egon Schiele. There was a slight perfume in the air, coming, in all probability, from an incense burner. Not exactly a martial kind of accessory.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for the past two days.
I’m afraid I’ve come to Bari at a bad time.”
“That’s true, sir. And with the lieutenant’s accident, you don’t even have a second-in-command.”
The lieutenant had broken a leg playing football and would be out of action for three months. So the unit had found itself with a new captain who had no knowledge of the city and its criminal geography and was without a second-in-command, all in the middle of a Mafia war.
“Can you explain what’s going on in this city?” Valente said.
Further information about The Cold Summer can be found at Bitter Lemon Press here.