Written by Marco Malvaldi, translated by Howard Curtis — Game For Five is the first instalment in the Bar Lume series, which are bestsellers in the author’s native Italy. Set in a small coastal town in Tuscany, the book features Massimo – a barman and amateur sleuth – and a gaggle of hilarious old timers in their 70s and 80s. Between downing shots of espresso, and lively card games, Massimo and his cohorts while away the time chatting and arguing. When a young girl is brutally murdered near their watering hole, and left in a trash can, they start theorising about events surrounding her death.
The victim’s less than moral lifestyle makes everyone think her death is connected to the world of drugs and casual sex in which she was immersed. Two of the prime suspects in her murder are linked to this very lifestyle. Out of their love of gossip and their wit and intelligence, the old friends at Bar Lume begin to pull the case to pieces.
With his connection to the discovery of the body, Massimo is coerced into the role of amateur sleuth and becomes the overseer of this band of merry pensioners. He systematically scrutinises their friends and neighbours. Add into the mix an arrogant yet ineffectual local police officer called Fusco, who investigates the murder, and the scene is set for the amateurs to solve the crime.
The book has an endorsement from Andrea Camilleri, and if you are an admirer of the Inspector Montalbano series you won’t be disappointed. The characterisation is absolutely marvelous throughout, from the hangdog barman Massimo through to the unruly pensioners with their politically incorrect observations and acidic treatment of their neighbours, who are possible suspects.
What I found particularly interesting were the slight differences in the relationships Massimo has with each player in the piece. His elderly customers exasperate and entertain him in equal measure. With the barmaid, Tiziana, there is consistently flirtatious and affectionate interaction. As Massimo becomes more entwined with the murder investigation there are some wonderfully spiky scenes between him and Inspector Fusco. They stiffen Massimo’s resolve to find the real culprit, and bring justice for the victim’s mother, with whom he confers during the course of his unsolicited investigation. Massimo really does don the hat of a detective, systematically eliminating potential suspects, and gradually working out who the real killer is.
He is a multi-layered and empathetic character, and along with the colourful members of the community in which he resides, adds a real texture and solidity to the plot. The unruly old timers are fantastically well-realised, and the barbed wit and general bonhomie between them is a delight throughout the book. They’re full of humour and yet make knowing nods to the frustrations growing old. In relation to the humour, I would make special mention of Howard Curtis’ translation, which seems to convey the atmosphere, dialogue and lively writing style of the author perfectly.
Europa Editions has found a superb Italian author to bring to our attention. Marco Malvaldi sits well alongside Andrea Camilleri and Marco Vichi. With a great blend of humour and underlying darkness, Game For Five, proves to be an excellent introduction to the owner and customers of Bar Lume and their small community. An entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars