Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Swede it isn't: Is Italian crime fiction the next wave?

I gave up speculating about next big things a few years after the Beatles broke up, but it occurs to me that the next cosa grande in crime writing could be Italy.

Three of the six novels shortlisted for the CWA's International Dagger Award this year are Italian: The Dark Valley by Valerio Varesi (translated by Joseph Farrell), The Potter's Field by Andrea Camilleri (tr. Stephen Sartarelli), and I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni (tr. Anne Milano Appel), the last of which is also up for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger. Furthermore, the good folks at Hersilia Press, who specialize in Italian crime fiction and who publish I Will Have Vengeance, are also bringing out an English translation of A Private Venus, a 1966 novel by Giorgio Scerbanenco, the father of Italian noir. That's good news.

The De Giovanni, titled Il senso del dolore in its original version and set in Italy's Fascist period, will make an interesting comparison with some of my favorite historical crime fiction: Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy of Carte Blanche, That Damned Season and Via delle Oche. (Read the first chapter of I Will Have Vengeance at the publisher's Web site.)

Hersilia, by the way, was the wife of Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome. Hersilia are also long-spinnered bark spiders. What this says about ancient Roman women, I don't know.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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42 Comments:

Blogger Cary Watson said...

I've read some of the names on this list, but the best I've found is Massimo Carlotto. His life story's actually as interesting as anything he puts in his novels. He was wanted for a murder he didn't commit and was on the run for many years. He wrote an autobiographical novel about it called The Fugitive.

June 12, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Interesting. Thanks.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Simona said...

Hurrah for all the writers. I'll look for the De Giovanni the next time I am in Italy. I have started reading Scerbanenco recently and I particularly enjoy his descriptions of Milan, having lived there. I wonder if they will get to translate my beloved Augusto De Angelis.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary: I haven't read Carlotto. I do know something about his interesting life and also that he has taken a bit of heat for the quality of the prose in English translations of his books.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the brief history of the International Dagger suggests that voters may be moved by waves of nation-based enthusiasm: Four French winners followed by Swedish winners the past two years. Perhaps it's Italy's turn this year.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Simona, take a look at the Hersilia Press Web site (I link to it in thr body of the post.) They are open to suggestions.

The Scerbanenco translation is exciting news. He is widely considered a seminal figure in Italian crime writing, but I don't think any of his work has been translated into English in quite a number of years.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

Thanks for the link to the James article. It's always tough to say if prose problems with foreign writers are due to translation or the original material, but I have to say that the Alligator novels by Carlotto are a bit so-so. His non-Alligator crime novel, The Goodbye Look is very good, and it was made into a good film. Here's a link to my review of Bandit Love:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/10/book-review-bandit-love-2009-by-massimo.html

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary, I took James to task for not raising the possibility that the sloppiness was due to translation. That would be such an obvious lapse on James' part that I have to suspect that the omission may be due to editing. As always, here's your link in in handy, clickable form.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Make that clunkiness rather than sloppiness.

June 12, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Didn't Fred Vargas win this thing three times in the last six or seven years? And yet this success didn't make her a star, or a superstar, let alone an icon in the English-speaking world. These crime writing awards do seem to be small beer, don't they?

I followed your Hersilia link to Wikipedia. The article says Hersilia was the grandmother of Tullus Hostilius. Now, wouldn't that make a great name for the bad guy in a crime novel.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, who knows what constitutes authorial stardom in the Rowling/Larsson era? I do know that the most recent of Fred Vargas' three International Daggers was for the first of her Adamsberg novels. Her previous Daggers may have influenced her publisher's decision to translate an earlier book in the series. That would be one measure of success.

Tullus Hostilius, the meanest son of a spider in the whole colonia.

June 12, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I think Fred Vargas' power to sweep up the crime novel awards made her more a target than anything else, but I love the Adamsberg books I've read so far.

I don't know if Italian crime fiction will ever become a wave over here, but Lucarelli and Carlotto are all right by me. I have to add the somewhat less typical Amina Lakhous, and the outsider/insider Jean Claude Izzo--French, but really Italian to the mix here.

June 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure if my tongue is in my cheek or if I expect to be taken with a grain of salt, but either way, I'm not sure what awards indicate. But it is interesting to see how national waves seem to sweep over the Dagger voters.

This post refers only to awards since the International Dagger was spun off as a separate award. I'm not sure how the various countries fared when there was just a Gold Dagger for the best novel, irrespective of origin (and, I think, a silver for second best). I think it was Arnaldur Indridason's winning the Gold Dagger that sparked creation of a separate award for translated fiction.

June 13, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The Scerbanenco translation is exciting news. He is widely considered a seminal figure in Italian crime writing, but I don't think any of his work has been translated into English in quite a number of years.

This IS exciting! His only crime fiction novel translated into English, until now, was Traditori di tutti (Duca and the Milan Murders--and that was more than 40 years ago. And, I agree with Simona, he captures the distinctive qualities of Milan very well.

June 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Scerbanenco also had an interesting life, I think, one clue to which is his Ukrainian surname.

My brief stay in Milan some years ago exposed me mainly to historic building (esp. S. Ambrogio) and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I suppose a contrast like that captures something of Milan's distinctive qualities.

June 13, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I have been asking this question and still am puzzled by this in De Giovanni's book; How can a police officer in a fascist regime be a decent person and a sympathetic character?

Unless there's resistance or sabotage -- or simply walking away from the job -- how is this possible? A police officer would have to carry out his job and therefore enforce the fascists' policies or else watch them being carried out against the Jews and others, and say nothing.

This is an enigma to me, which does present obstacles to even reading this book.

June 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll withhold judgment until I've read hte book. I do know that in Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels, set in the late Fascist and post-Fascist period, the protagonist, a police officer, is very much a victim of the paranoia and confusion of the time.

June 21, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'd like to read your review of De Giovanni's book, as this is a puzzle to me.

So I'll be looking for it.

June 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll look forward to getting the book. In the meantime, you might search on this site for whay I've had to say about the Carlo Lucarelli novels.

June 23, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Almost missed this post as I don't give a hoot in hell about awards for any kind of books and never pay attention to them, unless perhaps to avoid them, i.e. anything winning the Booker prize...

Have you read Valerio Varesi yet? (Couldn't find confirmation of this at DBB.) I haven't, but am very much enjoying MHz Networks' airing of the "Nebbie e delitti (Fog and Crimes" Rai-TV series based on Valeri's Commissario Soneri (portrayed by another guy named Luca) set in Ferrara. Like Salvo, he also has his ups and downs with his blond (live-in) girlfriend, is tenacious as a terrier with his cases, and has a Fazio-like (but not quite as smart as Fazio) assistant. Don't know how well these well-produced TV shows reflect the novels but I'll soon find out as I've requested a couple of Varesi's novels from the library. How I missed an Italian crime fiction series set in the moody town of Ferrara, I don't know...

June 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm reading The Age of Doubt and Varesi's River of Shadows at the same time. I hae a real Italian crime-fiction Jones thanks to Scerbanenco. Or maybe that should be giones.

June 26, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Ha! Reminds me of the poor race caller last night... A Standardbred pacer named Sfumato took the 4th race at Yonkers Raceway. All through the race the race caller kept referring to the gelding as "Ess-Fumato." Aaargh...

And where does that (I'm not sure why I think it's so unpleasant) expression "jones" come from? Most common English-language surname? If so, then maybe you have a "Rossi" for Italian crime fiction.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I've always liked jones, and I don't know where it came from. I've always assumed it was a Black American thing, but I can't be sure. And a non-Italian former colleague of mine liked the word sfumato so much that he used to say it for the sheer pleasure of saying it.

Off topic, perhaps, and I don't remember if I wrote to you about this, but did you see that I received the definitive answer on “cursing the saints”?

June 27, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I just looked it up, and Great Jones Alley in NYC was apparently a popular heroin hangout.

Maybe still is--I couldn't vouch for any of it.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The first time I remember hearing the expression and knowing what it meant was from a guy named Saul Chapin (not sure about the spellings), police chief at Harvard, when I interviewed him for an article. Context made it clear that a jones meant a drug habit.

Of course, I'd heard Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones" years earlier and even warbled its chorus off-key a time or two.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and thanks for looking it up.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have an information jones.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Or something. At least it isn't called a Graham, because it could be.

June 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

When I think of "jones" I think of how it's used most often in L.A., to refer to comfort food. Like Jones Hollywood, on Santa Monica Blvd.

As far as its connection to drug slang, I think it particularly refers to a need for a fix. That would tie in with Jones Alley. They'll fix you up there, all right.

I think I'll stick to "yen" or "hankering."

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In re graham, I was sent a story at work recently that bore the slug (name) CRACKER. I asked the person who sent it to me if it was about white people.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There's a "comfort food" restaurant in Philadelphia called Jones. I did not know until just now that that usage existed anywhere else.

Incidentally, I feel about "comfort food" the way you feel about "jones," and probably more so.

And I think you're right about the precise meaning of "jones." The Chapin guy from whom I first heard the expression said someone had a seventy-five-dollar-a-day jones.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I saw the deleted post,and 'oomfort food' is worth keeping.

I don't know if the Grahams are really white people, speaking from amidst their ranks. After all, they're Scots-Irish.

Can't forget the great title of some years back, "How the Irish Became White" by Noel Ignatiev.

June 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Hmm, why don't you like that expression? Fingernail on a blackboard? I rather like it; sums up how one feels when eating dishes like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, stew, etc.

And I ain't goin' nowhere near my last name in this discussion...

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I wonder how your last name came to mean...that thing it means.

I think I don't like "ccmfort food" because it sounds so arch, so compartmentalized, as if it came into being only to differentiate it homely, everyday, domestic food from, what, the kind of stuff that foddies eat? (Foodie. There's another words I don't like.)

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I admit a certain partiality to "oomfort food," though it sounds like a punch in the stomach after a meal of comfort food, hard enough to make one go "oof!"

Or else it's comfort food that packs a punch, comfort food with oomph...Oomfort food.

I'm sorry that the typo that necessitated this repost was less amusing than its predecessor.

June 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Foddies"? Fuddy-duddy foodies? "Foodie" -- that's right up there with "fashionista" in my Lexicon of Loathing.

I think there are many kinds of comfort food. Homey, Mexican ranchero cooking comes to mind. As does my ethnic heritage of meatballs and boiled potatoes. But I only see "comfort food" used to describe traditional American dishes (tuna noodle casserole, chocolate chip cookies, etc.) or very Americanized versions of ethnic dishes.

Many uses of English offend me (although perhaps not as many as offend you, Peter...) but comfort food is OK by me.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hate fashionista even more than I dislike foodie. At least I have an idea of what foodie means.

Shellfish to me is discomfort food.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe it's that so much of my diet is "comfort food" that I find the existence of a distinguishing term weird.

June 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Had to laugh today when I received this e-mail from the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena (italics mine):

Join us poolside and in The Terrace this summer for Chef Erik Schuster's mouthwatering BBQ menu. Comprised of upscale comfort food and gourmet, approachable BBQ dishes, the menu includes items such as Beer Can Chicken, BBQ Root Beer Ribs, Grilled Fish Tacos and even house-made ice "pops" in both child and adult flavors!

I'm particularly intrigued (annoyed?) by the use of the word "approachable" in this context.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also don't like the misuse of comprised. And I think you at least understand why I don't like the expression comfort food even if you don't share my dislike. If food is upscale it's not approachable, and if it was comfort food, why would an prospective eater need to be told it was approachable? The words are nothing but meaningless impressionistic dressing that fade in importance next to the fact the the chef has a NAME.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just received a reoly to my "Sheep's head revisited post" about a food that could not ever be reasonably described as "comfort." Then again, maybe folks are strange in the far north.

June 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Simona, here's the beginning of an answer to your question:

Peter Rozovsky‏@DBeyondBorders

@hersilia_press A reader of my blog asks if you'll get around to translating Augusto De Angelis.


to which the answer was:

Hersilia Press‏@hersilia_press

@DBeyondBorders possibly :)


That's not too bad, I'd say.

June 28, 2012  

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