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Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction

Edited by Giancarlo de Cataldo & Translated by Andrew Brown

  Giangilberto has been brooding on extreme solutions, such as getting his hands on a pistol and killing the Turk, or else himself; on middle-range solutions such as fleeing abroad; and on desperate solutions, such as reporting certain illicit activities on the part of the above-mentioned Turk which have by complete chance have come to his attention and getting a judge to grant him police protection. Then, all of a sudden, he has realized that the solution to all his problems is right here, within reach; Laura.... "

Reviewed by Carol Reid

Abandon all images of sun-soaked terracotta, fragrant olive groves and gorgeous, generous women; this collection of self-described Italian noir takes the reader on a region by region tour of a tired and tawdry Italy inhabited by varied strata of lowlife and bottom feeders, heavy on "anti" and pretty much bereft of "hero". 

Editor Giancarlo de Cataldo , who also contributes one of the most effective stories in the collection, charmingly sidesteps his way through an introduction to these nine stories, each based in the author's home region. What defines Italian noir? According to de Cataldo, this is noir because its readership says so. The reader is instructed that three important themes run through these stories: corruption, the presence of the foreigner, and an obsession with success, especially of the material kind. 

To me the most interesting of these themes is the concept of the foreigner, the tide of immigrants to Italy from other tired and torn apart countries. Albanians, Slavs, Chinese, North Africans all speckle this blasted Italian landscape, their gangs out-Mafiaing the old Mafia, which is remembered almost with nostalgia. But unlike classic American noir, it's difficult to discern much similarity of mood or style among these stories, apart from the cast of decidedly un-simpatico characters in each. 

The best of the collection, such as Carlo Lucarelli's The Third Shot, Death of an Informer by Massimo Carlotto, or the above-quoted "noir fairytale" The Boy Who Was Kidnapped By The Christmas Fairy, by de Cataldo, succeed by suggesting vestiges of more sympathetic character and a time less bleak and opportunistic than the present. Others read as little more than shooting scripts for second rate television, offering ciphers in place of characters and no more interesting revelation than a pointing finger assigning guilt. 

Translator Andrew Brown must have had an arduous task dealing with nine vernaculars from different regions of Italy. The quality of the translations sometimes feels seamless but is often rambling and confusing, perhaps because the stories have been translated from Italian into what reads like British gangster slang with an Italian accent. I would love to have access to the original Italian to get more sense of each author's voice and style. 

The appeal of the best of these stories, like that of 20th century American noir, is a connection with characters struggling to stay afloat in a poisoned sea.

Carol Reid has enjoyed crime fiction since the first time she wandered from the children's room into the adult section of the public library and picked up her first Agatha Christie. She lives a quiet, happy life in a small town on the west coast of Canada and has never been caught digging in her garden after midnight.

Carol's other Short Reviews: Richard Matheson "Button, Button"

Janet Hutchings (ed) "Passport to Crime"   

PublisherBitter Lemon Press

Publication Date: 2008 (First published in Italian by Torino, 2005) 

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?: Anthology

Editor: Giancarlo de Cataldo

Editor bio: Giancarlo de Cataldo is a judge in Rome, and a writer, translator and author of books, plays and television scripts.

Authors: Niccolo Ammaniti, Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto, Sandrone Dazieri, Giancarlo de Cataldo, Diego de Silva, Giorgio Faletti, Marcello Fois, Carlo Lucarelli, Antonio Manzini

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