The Crocodile

crocodile200Written by Maurizio de Giovanni — Neapolitan author Maurizio de Giovanni is a new Italian name that Little Brown is seeking to bring attention to via English translations of his books. He launched his career in Italy in 2005 with an award-winning set of short stories, and has also penned a series featuring the detective Riccardi, set in the 1930s. We reviewed I Will Have Vengeance in 2012. This book, set in the present day, was actually published last year but is being re-issued on 14 August with a new, less arty and presumably more dramatic cover.

Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojacano has been transferred from his home island of Sicily to Naples following a scandal involving the Mafia. In the process he has lost his professional credibility and, more painful still, has separated from his wife and is losing touch with his beloved teenage daughter. So it would be fair to say that he is unhappy in Naples and cynical about the people he encounters there. Furthermore, he has not been allowed near any proper investigation, so he bides his time, plays poker against his computer, chats with Giuffre, the only colleague who will talk to him, and listens to the deranged complaints of crazy old women.

But one day death comes to the city of Naples in the shape of an older, nondescript man, whom no-one seems to remember seeing. Youngsters start dropping like flies around the city, killed execution style, at close quarters, just outside their homes. Nothing connects these young people. They are all from different backgrounds, classes and different neighbourhoods. The police are unable to find anything that links these murders, other than a handful of tissues left behind at each murder scene.

The press is quick to label this killer The Crocodile because he seems to shed tears before shooting. Lojacano thinks this may be quite an apt nickname, but not because of the tears. He believes this reptilian killer is quietly biding his time, preparing to catch his victims unaware and pounce at just the right time. He doesn’t think there is mafia involvement, and feisty prosecutor Laura Piras (also an islander, having moved to Naples from Sardinia to pursue her career) is inclined to agree with him. At her insistence, Lojacano joins the investigation and the two of them start the classic chase to track down the killer before he strikes again.

The story is told via rapid transitions from one scene to another and multiple, alternating points of view – the killer’s, the letters he sends to an unnamed person, the investigators’, the future victims’. We get to see the hopes and dreams of each one of them, however briefly, and we start to relate to them. It’s only towards the end that you can start to grasp how the puzzle fits together and that revenge is truly a dish best served cold.

The frightening climax may be a bit too dark and graphic for some readers – don’t be looking for Italian vacation-style decadence with lots of loving descriptions of food and drink. However, one of the main characters is Letizia, the owner of the local trattoria, where Lojacano has become a regular. He enjoys her well-cooked meals, but above all she becomes his confidante and mothers him. I can foresee an intriguing triangle developing there in later books in this series.

The author was born and bred in Naples, but manages to bring an outsider’s sensibility and critical eye to the city. This is not the picturesque Napoli of tourist photos. The poverty and indifference of a city inured to violence is very well described. In the anonymous, rain-swept streets it is so easy for people to look away, to avoid getting involved, so easy for a killer to operate unhindered. This is a quick-moving and powerful read and a promising start to a new contemporary series.

Abacus
Print/Kindle
£6.49

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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