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A DEATH IN CALABRIA
by Michele Guittari and and Howard Curtis, trans.
Abacus, June 2011
326 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0349123098


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The murder of the doorman of a New York apartment leads police to become involved in a trail of crime across continents. This is the story of a complex investigation involving co-operation between different branches of law enforcement in the USA and in Italy. A mysterious, anonymous caller, a burnt-out car, a burned down gym, knowledge of past cases, stake-outs and police raids contribute to the eventual identification of a mysterious organisation, the 'Ndrangeta, a branch of the Mafia based in Calabria. The denouement of the case highlights the fact that crime doesn't pay.

The story is told efficiently and with authority, as might be expected of an author with a background at the highest level in the Italian police. The agenda is very much a police agenda: managing the press; co-operating with other agencies such as the FBI, and with other police forces in the States and in Italy; monitoring the potential dishonesty of colleagues.

The author brings an emphatic awareness of pressures caused by jobs in this field of work. He makes interesting comparisons between the effects of such work on police families in the USA and in Italy, and likewise the implications of membership of groups such as the 'Ndrangeta for their families too.

Being written from a police perspective may be the reason why the tone appears quite cold and matter-of-fact, which in places seems entirely appropriate. Descriptive prose throughout the book is both clear and succinct. The fullest descriptions are those of the wild Calabrian countryside. The dense vegetation, the remote monuments, the small insular villages encountered by the characters. and the succinct writing all conjure up a very inhospitable and lonely place, perhaps not the best advertisement for tourism to the area. Those who are familiar with Calabria might have hoped for at least some mention of or allusion to the beauty of the region.

The pace of the book reflects well the pace of the complex investigation that is its subject. The fear and expectation caused by the initial crime is followed by the slow and careful building of the case, with details of the planning and co-operation involved in the investigations. There is an increase in the speed as the clues begin to come together, which culminates in the frantic energy of the final assault and arrests.

This is a well written and enjoyable book with a varied pace that matches the story, but which would benefit at times from a softer, more evocative style.

Sylvia Maughan is a retired university lecturer, based in Bristol.

Reviewed by Sylvia Maughan, July 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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