10 October 2019

The Italian Job


by Eve Fisher

I've been reading mysteries for a long time, and, like everyone, I love a good mystery series so that I can keep on reading, and reading, and reading… And rereading. And maybe watching and watching and watching. (And rewatching - my husband and I, when we run out of new stuff to watch, or it's been a bad day, often just throw on another episode of New Tricks. That or The Great British Baking Show.)

My choice in series is complicated by the fact that I don't like gore, and I want more than just non-stop action. I want complex characters, but I prefer detectives who aren't so damaged they can barely speak.
NOTE: I think detection is like any other job: you can get used to anything. Most morticians I've known are hilarious when you get them in the back room. Most of the people I've known in the judicial / law enforcement world have a good, rich, morbid sense of humor that allows them (among other things) to look at a written death & dismemberment threat and criticize its spelling, grammar, and the fact that the dumb-ass sent it from his prison cell.
But every once in a while I run across a writer whose detective is damaged, who covers crimes that are horrendous, sometimes gory, and I still love it because… Well, welcome to the world of Gianrico Carofiglio.
The Cold Summer (Pietro Fenoglio Book 1) by [Carofiglio, Gianrico]

Mr. Carofiglio lives in Bari, Italy, and given the fact that he's a former anti-Mafia judge, the fact that he's alive at all is a miracle and a mystery to me. And oh, does he have stories to tell. I just finished The Cold Summer, which I gobbled down in 2 sit-downs (I do have work to do). The Mafia is all pervasive, and the central mystery revolves around a series of kidnappings, one of which ends up in the murder of a young boy. It also tells the truth that very few people want to face: you can't tell the criminals from the rest of us. I can assure you that's true.

To paraphrase Pietro Fenoglio, our protagonist, there are:
  • criminals who are children: what they really want is attention, and they will do anything, including burning down the house, to get it;
  • criminals who are adults: they do what they have to do to make a living, that's all, so don't take it personally;
  • criminals who are adults: they enjoy what they do, and while some of their pleasures are truly horrific, they don't look any different than the other hard working adults in the room.
But what really impressed me about Carofiglio is that he understands hierarchy.

This is important, because a lot of life is hierarchy.
  • Judges are God, at least to themselves, their court reporters are their acolytes, and everyone else is their subordinate.
  • Depending on which county of which state you're in, the Sheriff can be just as much God as any judge.
  • I think most people have worked in offices where there's always one supervisor who thinks s/he's God, and is the only reason that the most irritating person in the office (not necessarily the same person) is still working and/or alive. At the same time the person who really runs everything is usually the secretary, a/k/a administrative assistant, who's been there forever and knows exactly where each and every body is buried. When that person turns on you, you are well and truly screwed, no matter how high your rank.
  • When I was a child, families were all about hierarchy. A common saying in AA is "alcoholics don't have families, they take hostages." And everyone keeps silence - omertà - without question. Small towns are the same way. It takes a long time for outsiders to find out what's really going on; who's really in charge. If ever.
Carafiglio is a master of hierarchies, and how people learn how to work with or around them.

The glance that a lower-level carabinieri gives a captain when the captain wants him to bring in a couple who are definitely criminals, i.e., well-connected Mafia:
"When you're the commanding officer of a station on the outskirts of town, you have to find a balance between asserting your own authority and showing cautious respect for people who are prepared to do anything. When you live and work round the corner from the homes and territories of highly dangerous criminals, you have to find a modus vivendi, accept boundaries and limitations that it's hard for those who come in from outside to grasp. Theoretical authority is one thing; the real world, where different rules apply, is another."
Giancarlo Carofiglio
Or when Dotoressa (Judge) D'Angelo demands the right to walk home alone without guards all around her - and everyone has to agree, but at the same time figure out a way to guard her, discreetly, so discreetly that perhaps she doesn't know about it, because a very dangerous man wants her dead. Or worse.

Or the question of why a Captain addresses everyone around him formally, full rank AND surname, when the rule is that's only for people above you. There's a whole back-story about why he does that, and it works.

Or the criminal who finally turns himself in, not because he regrets a damn thing, nor because he finally got religion or morality, nor the fact that his boss killed a friend of his. But - in the process of killing the friend - his boss killed the criminal's dog. Some things are unforgivable.

If you haven't yet, check out Carofiglio. I'm about to pick up another one at the library tomorrow, and I have a feeling my ILL list is about to expand like a balloon.

7 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Sounds interesting as hell. I don't like vivid descriptions of gore either but love all Italian settings. Thanks for calling attention to this.

Paul D. Marks said...

Fascinating, Eve. And I'm unfamiliar with Carofiglio. Will have to check him out. Thanks.

janice law said...

I've put Carofiglio on my to do list.
You are so right about who gets things done. Almost the only good advice I got from my 6 week how to teach course before heading off to tackle 9th graders was always be nice and polite to two people in the building, the school secretary and the janitor. For sure!

Eve Fisher said...

O'Neil, Paul, and Janice, Carofiglio came as a wonderful surprise to me. And yes, Janice, the secretary and the janitor(s) are the ones to keep in good with at all times.

Lawrence Maddox said...

This series sounds great, Eve. Plus Italian writers(and filmmakers) have a handle on gore.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, we may have similar motivations and tastes in what we read, so I'm definitely paying attention.

To your list about criminals as children/adults, from a friend of mine (a former mafia wife mentioned in one of my earlier articles), there should be one more criminals as children: The boys who never grew out of high school, still like to drive around all night in cars, catcalling girls, bullying others, catching what 'fell off a truck.'

If I might suggest another 'Italian' series (sort of), check out Lindsey Davis' Falco series. Try to read them in order, if you can.

Eve Fisher said...

Leigh, I'll check Lindsey Davis out.