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The Sydney Morning Herald: "Engaging and emotional"

Date: Oct 26 2013

Roberto Costantini's debut novel, Tu sei il male, won the Scerbanenco Prize for the best Italian crime thriller of 2011. With it now translated as The Deliverance of Evil, English readers can immerse themselves in la dolce vita as Costantini's charismatic detective, Commissario Michele Balistreri, solves a complex mystery centred on the nature of evil.

The novel begins in 1982. Balistreri is a handsome womaniser, beset with demons from a troubled childhood and an adolescent flirtation with fascist organisations.

After he realises his friends were ''moving towards bombing ordinary people, collaborating with common thugs, betraying our ideals'', he agrees to help the Secret Service. When his cover is blown, he joins the police and is posted to the quietest district in Rome, the Vigna Clara.

The night Italy wins the World Cup, the beautiful, saintly Elisa Sordi goes missing. Balistreri, already drunk and planning a hedonistic victory party, delays an investigation, arguing she must also be celebrating.

When her mutilated body is discovered by the Tiber some days later, he realises the consequences of his selfish decision.

By 2006, when Italy is once more in the World Cup final, Balistreri is head of the Special Section in Rome, older, wiser but miserable, having lost his libido, taking anti-depressants and gastro-protection pills, and having to limit both his whisky and nicotine intake.

A young woman is murdered and three young men from the Roma community are arrested.

Balistreri is not convinced of their guilt, because his investigation uncovers evidence of a conspiracy to close the Roma migrant camp involving both the government and the Vatican.

When more young girls are murdered, he recognises the similarities between the recent cases and that of Elisa Sordi in 1982. Balistreri realises he is ''facing not a simple serial killer, but a merciless plot, and that he had no idea where it began and where it would end''.

This is a long, complex novel, which demands patience and concentration. Nonetheless, Costantini tells an engrossing story of corruption and revenge, until near the end, when he kills off all the suspects, leaving little doubt as to the identity of the murderer.

Maurizio de Giovanni's The Crocodile is a more accomplished, leaner piece of writing, which is not surprising, as de Giovanni is the prize-winning author of a series of crime novels set in the 1930s, featuring Inspector Riccardi.

In The Crocodile, which won the 2012 Scerbanenco Prize, he introduces a new crime series, set in present-day Naples, and a new detective, Inspector Guiseppe Lojacono.

Although at one time ''a golden boy with a glittering career ahead of him'', he is now the ultimate outsider, in disgrace after being named as an informer by a mafia boss.

Estranged from his wife and daughter, he has been relocated to Naples and the Crime Reporting Unit, where he spends his days ''sitting at an empty desk, playing poker against the computer'', until three young people are inexplicably murdered by a man the press calls ''The Crocodile'', because he leaves tear-soaked tissues near the bodies.

The police blame the Camorra, the local mafia, but Lojacono argues that the murders lack the drama of a Camorra hit. The assistant public prosecutor overhears his theory and includes him in the investigation.

Lojacono speculates that the murderer is, indeed, like a crocodile, not because of the tears but because he ''selects a location … the place where it knows its prey will go … and it waits. It waits.'' The clue to his identity and motive lie with his three victims. When Lojacono discovers the link between them, he realises The Crocodile hasn't completed his mission.

De Giovanni intersperses his narrative with both The Crocodile's thoughts and his victims' hopes and dreams, thus reinforcing the pathos and the unfolding tragedy.

Engaging and emotional, The Crocodile is a more memorable take on revenge than The Deliverance of Evil.

-Anna Creer

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