Maurizio de Giovanni, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, tr. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions 2015)
First line: Giuseppe Lojacono was sitting in the squad car, in the passenger seat, back straight, hands motionless on his thighs.
It’s been a while since I read some Italian crime fiction, so Maurizio de Giovanni’s The Bastards of Pizzofalcone was a perfect fit: the first in a series about a ragtag group of police officers who are thrown together after being transferred to the troubled Pizzofalcone police precinct in Naples.
The precinct’s former, corrupt officers have been packed off in disgrace, so it’s up to the new guys to rescue its reputation. There’s Giuseppe Lojacono, a Sicilian with fine investigative instincts and a chequered past; Marco Aragona, a suntanned rich kid who acts like he’s a film star; Ottavia Calabrese, a computer genius with an oppressive home life, Francesco Romano, a terse chap with anger management issues; Giorgio Pisanelli, an old-timer obsessed with a set of suicides he thinks are murders; Allesandra Di Nardo, a firearms whizz stifled by her family’s conformity, and the ever steady Commissario Luigi Palma, better known as Gigi. Together, they are the Bastards of Pizzofalcone.
The novel is billed as ‘noir’, but I’m not sure that’s totally accurate. The emphasis is very much on character and on the mechanics of investigating various cases: the murder of a wealthy notary’s wife, a suspected kidnapping, the alleged suicides. The acknowledgements reveal that the author is a fan of Ed McBain, and I think that offers us a great way to see this novel – as the first in a modern, Neapolitan ’87th Precinct’ series. There’s also a TV adaptation – here’s a nice introductory snippet with subtitles…
Chain of evidence: from Napoli to Nottinghamshire
Reading The Bastards of Pizzofalcone made me think about other Italian crime novels I’ve loved. This led me to my earlier post on Roberto Costantini’s The Deliverance of Evil (Quercus), which is the first in a trilogy. The post contains an extensive list of crime trilogies and quartets, such as David Peace’s astonishing ‘Red Riding Quartet’ (Serpent’s Tail), set in Yorkshire. Peace also wrote a novel called GB84 about the 1984 miners’ strikes. And that brings us to the BBC crime drama Sherwood, set in Nottinghamshire around 2014, in a community fractured by the strikes thirty years before…
This six-part series has just concluded, and I can highly recommend it for its wonderfully rich storylines, its historical and social insights, and its absolutely stellar cast, including David Morrissey, Robert Glenister and Lesley Manville. Writer James Graham grew up in the area, and fuses a genuine case (the murder of a man with a crossbow) with the history of the miners’ strikes and the ‘spycops’ scandals (an early example of how seeding discord into a community can ‘divide and conquer’ it for decades). It’s fast-paced, hard-hitting, twisty, and genuinely moving at times. Loved it.