Saturday, June 30, 2012

River of Shadows

Lots of crime novels build their tension on deeds from the past that spark guilt and recrimination in the present. Arnaldur Indriðason's books, for example, regularly belch up long-buried corpses to trouble the morose Inspector Erlendur.

One way such books avoid melting into melodramtic schmaltz is to create a compelling narrative present on which the threatening past can intrude. Pierre Magnan's The Murdered House did such a good job of this that he was forced to bring its vanished protagonist back in a sequel called Beyond the Grave.

Valerio Varesi's 2010 novel River of Shadows offers a world as self-contained as Magnan's French villages. Here the world is that of the Po River and the boatmen and others whose lives depend on it. The mystery heightens with the rising river and begins to resolve itself with the subsequent winter freeze and receding flood waters, and if that sounds like a bit much, it got me in tune with the river's slow rhythms — the boatmen in riverside bars listening to radio communications about the rising water, the creak of barges rising and bumping against the docks, the crackle of ice on a frozen floodplain.

The novel contains at least one timely and satisfying red herring, but to preserve the mystery and, at the same time, offer a taste of the novel's pace and atmosphere, I'll leave you with two brief excerpts:
"I would even have defended them if they had been under threat from anyone else. Maybe that's a kind of love, like the love you have for rabbits that you tend and look after with the sole intention of having them for dinner once they have been fattened up."
"`In an age of prosperity, everyone hates everyone else because egotism springs up everywhere ... Mark my words, poverty will return and people will seek unity again, but it'll have nothing to do with me. ...'

"Soneri felt as though he was back at the debates he had listened to as a student. There were words he had heard declaimed thousands of times at assemblies in occupied sports halls and cinemas, and now they left him with a bitter savour of nostalgia and passion spent amidst the glittering well-being of today. It seemed as though a century of history had gone by, but all that had passed was the brief period separating youth from the present."
Joseph Farrell translated the novel, titled Il fiume delle nebbie in Italian. The translation was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger award for 2011. Varesi's novel The Dark Valley, with the same translator, is also a finalist for the 2012 Dagger.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger seana graham said...

This is pretty far off the main point here, but for some reason, I have never been able to convince myself that the Po isn't in China. Or at best, an Italian opera about the mysterious Far East.

June 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I was thinking that if this novel had a character named Guglielmo, he could have formed a band with some of his fellow river valley dwellers called Willie and the Po Boys.

June 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could be influenced by the T'ang Dynasty poet Li Po, whom you may have met through Eza Pound's translations.

June 30, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Seana, there is a Po River in China, in Jiangxi province. (There is also a Po River in Virginia...)

July 10, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, What did you think of this book after reading it? I keep picking it up and putting it down again.

Part of the problem is the translation; ex. "rain" and "mist" are described with the same adjective within less than a page.

I wanted so much to like it as the RAI-TV episode of "Nebbia e Delitte" based on it was excellent (see MHz Networks).

August 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I liked, it though I'll need a break with some less languid reading before going back to read Varesi's Dark Valley.

August 08, 2012  

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