Friday, 27 April 2012

A Round-up of the great Italian detectives writers

Far more than simple ‘who-done-its’, Italy’s greatest detective novels are intricately woven narratives of deception and delinquency, interlaced with a shrewd understanding of Italian society, and lead by characters that are so enthralling that their authors feel compelled to keep them alive.

But above all, these books are about place; the place being Italy: Each writer, whether hailing from the UK, US or Italy itself, confesses to an undying love for the people, places and culinary culture of Italy - a consensus that lives and breathes throughout their writing.

Andreas Camilleri, author of the famous
Inspector Montalbano series
Andreas Camilleri is nothing short of a phenomenon. Following a lengthy career as a film director, this gravel-voiced Sicilian found his niche in crime-writing, at the age of 67. Two years after The Hunting Season (1992) became a best-seller, Camilleri released the first in a long series of novels, based in Italy, around the fractious Sicilian detective, Inspector Montalbano.

His debut Montalbano novel, The Shape of Water (2002), was an immediate hit in Italy, spurring Camilleri to write a further 15 Montalbano mysteries. A master of description and suspense, Camilleri switches between comical and incongruous events, covering topical storylines, such as illegal immigration and money laundering.

Peppered with colloquial Sicilian phrases and enriched by Montalbano’s passion for food, Sicily lives through the pages in the smells and tastes of the region; fans are renowned for cooking classic Montalbano recipes, such as sardines rolled in pine-nuts and Sicilian Arancini – favourite dishes in Italy.

A predecessor to Camilleri, the late Michael Dibdin is best-known for his Aurelio Zen series. Born in Wolverhampton, Dibdin developed his love for Italy and the inspiration for his thrillers during his career as an English teacher at the University of Perugia, Italy.

Lead by his central character - the Venetian detective, Aurelio Zen -– Dibdin guides us through an exposé of organised crime and corrupt bureaucracy in Italy. Dibdin’s intricate plots are laced with tangled emotional encounters and loaded with sex and violence, giving a disturbing insight to Italy’s vivid underworld. Each of the 11 books in the Aurelio Zen series is set in a different part of Italy, expertly conveyed by Dibdin’s detailed observations of people and place.

In January 2011, three of the Dibdin’s Zen novels – Vendetta (1990), Cabal (1992) and Ratking (1988) - were broadcast as 90-minute films in a BBC TV series, all filmed on location in Italy. End Games (2007) was Dibdin’s final novel in the series, published in the year he passed away.

Donna Leon a
Venice enthusiast
Donna Leon’s protagonist, Guido Brunetti, is as equally compelling as Camilleri’s and Dibdin’s. An American expat, residing in Italy, Leon is addicted to Venice – the city she has called home for more than 30 years - and her crime-novels double as Venician travelogues; Leon empowers her readers with local-knowledge and insight.

Leon’s commissario, Brunetti, is a middle-class family-man, who investigates the high crime that lurks within Italy’s aristocratic society. He works alongside his partner - Vianello; secretary - Elettra; and boss - Giuseppe Patta. Dissecting almost every aspect of modern Italian society, from food and families, to politics and prostitution in Italy, Leon’s novels explore social injustice, hidden evils and human failings, set within one of Italy’s most beautiful cities. Leon completes a new Brunetti each year but refuses to be published in Italian. The latest in the series, Beastly Things, is due out in April 2012.

From the waterways of Venice to the monuments of Rome, Yorkshire-born novelist, David Hewson, chooses the capital of Italy at his central city. Hewson’s ‘Costa collection’ catapulted him to fame when he began writing about Italy in 2003. Lead by a young and enthusiastic detective, Nic Costa, the series began with A Season for the Dead (2003) and was followed by The Villa of Mysteries (2004) and The Sacred Cut (2005). Hewson’s Costa series has since grown by a book a year and has been published in 20 different languages. His latest novel, Carnival for the Dead (2012), is set in Venice and the Costa crime series in currently being adapted for a series of TV films.

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