This is the first in a new hardboiled noir series (see my reservations about this description below…) set in contemporary Naples. Europa Editions have previously published a series of novels by de Giovanni set in the same city in the 1930s. Six of the latter series and this new book, along with The Crocodile, a contemporary novel also featuring the main character in The Bastards…, Inspector Lojacone, have been translated by Anthony Shugaar.
So why The Bastards…? In short, a motley crew of police officers with blotted copybooks and suspensions hanging over them are transferred to the district of Pizzofalcone to form the all-new investigating team. The district is threatened with merger with neighbouring precincts unless it pulls its socks up – the now-imprisoned ex-cops seized a shipment of drugs, kept most of it back for themselves and sold it on to underworld connections. The aforementioned Lojacone is the main protagonist: we generally see the action from his perspective as he investigates the murder of a leading notary’s wife in the company of his junior partner, a young wannabe TV cop with a penchant for speeding and dark glasses. In another plot strand, a suspected kidnap is investigated by officer first class Alessandra Di Nardo, who is overly fond of her service revolver, and warrant officer Romano, a man with a short fuse transferred after punching a fellow policeman.
Lojacone and Di Nardo are well drawn characters with interesting back stories. Lojacone is somewhat cynical with a dry sense of humour and obvious affection for his daughter back home in Sicily. Di Nardo is level-headed and has an interesting, unorthodox private life. The other Bastards, I think, suffer from being slightly stereotypical, but they are secondary characters really. I would have liked to know more about Giorgio Pisanelli, one of the few survivors of the old regime, a squeaky clean officer nearing the end of his career and pursuing yet another investigation into the apparent suicides of lonely elderly people. (I think the novel suffers from having at least one too many strands, but perhaps this is to introduce the investigating officers for the purposes of subsequent novels; I also actually cried out in disbelief when the mystery of the suicides was resolved…).
Other quibbles? Yes – the women in the novel, Di Nardo being an obvious exception, are presented in a way that can only be described as lecherous, with one described as “a lovely blonde”, another as being “one of those full mature beauties”, and yet another as having “ample and firm breasts”. A femme fatale wears “a short skirt that revealed a serious pair of legs. She was good-looking, knew it, and made no secret of the fact. But she was also rather aggressive, and this too she was happy to flaunt”. I’ve just read The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte (translated by Frank Wynne) and I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the depiction of women in the two books. Perez-Reverte’s women are strong, modern and, yes, often beautiful, but he lets us know it with an economy of words and restrained descriptions that Di Giovanni would do well to take inspiration from. That said, it is worth repeating that Alessandra Di Nardo is an interesting character, described in subtler fashion, and there is also an intriguing portrayal of a female cop’s difficult relationship with her disabled son and overly perfect husband.
The novel is described by the publisher as “hardboiled” but I think it would benefit from being boiled down a little further, sparing us a few summaries of why the cops are known as the “Bastards” and of who the characters are, editing out other excesses (“she was a very reserved person, and Mayya was anything but intrusive. Still silences tell no lies, as they said back home: words do, but silences don’t”), and making the dialogue a little sparer. Overall, though, this was a fairly enjoyable read, made somewhat frustrating by repeated explanations and the leery descriptions of many female characters. There are enough positives though to keep an eye out for future instalments in the series.