Wednesday, June 6, 2012

tre libri di Giutarri: A Death in Tuscany, The Death of a Mafia Don, and A Death in Calabria

There are three books between Giutarri's  first Michele Ferrrara novel  A Florentine Death (which, as I noted earlier, really bothered me) and The Black Rose of Florence, the latest installment of the Ferrara series (#5), which will get its own post since it's the latest of Giutarri's novels to be published.  After my experience with A Florentine Death,  I probably would have left the series alone, but having bought the other four, I just couldn't abandon ship without giving them a read.  Here's how they shook out: I liked A Death in Tuscany in 3.3 stars sort of way, thought The Death of a Mafia Don was not so bad, but didn't really care much for Death in Calabria.

Abacus, 2009 (UK ed)
originally published as La loggia degli innocenti, 2005
translated by Howard Curtis
381 pp
trade paper

Abacus, 2010 (UK ed.)
originally published as Il basilisco, 2007
translated by Howard Curtis
369 pp
trade paper

A Death in Tuscany and The Death of a Mafia Don are sort of companion pieces in which the events in the latter are related to the former; actually Death in Calabria is sort of related to these two but only kind of marginally.  

In A Death in Tuscany, a young, teenaged girl who was found in the Tuscan woods and brought to the hospital ER dies as a result of a heroin overdose.  The case catches Ferrara's personal interest, especially when no one seems to have reported her missing after some time.  Ferrara develops a few theories about the girl: she might possibly be an illegal immigrant; he also wonders if she might not have been a victim of human trafficking, a crime on the rise in Florence largely credited to the Albanian gangs who have also been supplying the North African drug dealers in Italy.  Another idea he's playing around with has her as the victim of pedophiles.   But some irregularities in the hospital reports and other factors, lead Ferrara to suspect that there's something very wrong going on here, and he is keen to get to the bottom of it. But while he's gathering information on that case, his friend, bookstore-owner Massimo Verga, has vanished along with a woman he's been seeing -- and the Carabinieri are on his trail after the recent murder of the woman's husband.   

Death of a Mafia Don begins with a bang -- literally -- as Ferrara becomes a victim of an unknown bomber while on his way to work in Florence.  It's not even a month since the 9/11 attack in the US; the rumors are running rife that the bomb may be the work of terrorists.  But some suspect that Ferrara himself may have been the target due to events that happened at the end of Death in Tuscany, a suspicion which is later confirmed when the target of a second bombing, who is closely linked to Ferrara, is killed.  In the meantime, a newspaper reporter stirs up the specter of a possible Mafia-Al Queda connection, and Mafia wars are looming on the horizon. 

Abacus, 2011 (UK)
originally published as La donna della 'ndrangheta, 2009
translated by Howard Curtis
323 pp 
trade paper 

Before the author gets to Italy in A Death in Calabria, he makes a stop in Manhattan, where a group of policemen enter the lobby of an apartment building. When the doorman goes to help them, he is attacked.  The bad guys make their way to an apartment, where they kill six people.  The niece of the apartment's owner, who is eventually identified as Rocco Fideli, is waiting for her uncle to join her and her parents to watch the New York Marathon, and uses her key to get in when there is no answer, and discovers the carnage. The real police get to work to solve the crime, and eventually,  a detective from the NYPD, along with FBI agents travel to Rome, where they will become part of a joint investigative team with Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigation Department (the DIA).   It seems that Ferrara has been reassigned temporarily, after the events in the previous two novels,  to the DIA as Director of Investigations, currently working on a number of  unsolved crimes.  Tracing the Fideli connection, the team realizes that they're dealing with groups of Calabrians known collectively as the 'Ndrangheta; it seems that different families within the 'Ndrangheta are at war with each other. The Americans want to solve the brutal murders, and the DIA seems to be their only hope.

There are several commonalities between these three novels.  There are people in the higher echelons who either seem to have no clue about the realities of police work or no real police experience, yet they run the show and dictate how the police must act. Of course, Ferrara is known for being a troublemaker and for doing things his way.  Second, there's a distinct lack of cooperation between the various law-enforcement agencies in Italy -- for example, the Carabinieri keeps its distance from the Squadra Mobile so that in some cases, even when ordered to share evidence and keep each other abreast of developments, the two groups hold some revelations close to their respective chests.  Third, there is a great deal of corruption at the highest levels, some of which seeps down into the police department so it's often difficult to know who to trust. Then there's Ferrara's investigations, which seem to lead him down the path of conspiracy theory -- often to the Freemasons.  These same traits also find their way into the newest novel, Black Rose of Florence, but more on that later.  There is also the sense that in each and every case, there is someone behind the scenes who pulls the strings, often known only by some silly codename, and others jump to his or her tune in fear of some kind of exposure.

A Death in Tuscany, followed by Death of a Mafia Don are the better two of these "tre libri di Giutarri;" with Death in Tuscany the best of the group.  Here the action is a bit more believable than in Mafia Don, although in all of the books, the characters seem a bit cardboardish, most of the action is over the top, and really, I think Ferrara might have been a much more sympathetic character if he wasn't so obviously modeled after his creator.  Sometimes I felt bad for Michele Ferrara, especially in Death of a Mafia Don, but when I got down to Death in Calabria, I wondered why he was even a character in the novel.  Most of the real action occurs in New York; in Italy, Ferrara has much less of a role than in the previous books of the series.  In all of these novels there is very little in the way of necessary sense of place that transports the reader into Italy, a definite drawback for those who want to soak up the local atmosphere.

If you've started the series and are invested in it, then by all means don't miss these; Giuttari has come a long way since A Florentine Death, and for the most part the stories in these three novels are definitely interesting at their core.  There is a lot of procedural in all of these novels but they are exciting in parts; I think, however, if the author would just relax and not get so involved in conspiracies they'd be much better.

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