One of the most entrancing series of crime novels to tempt my jaded palate in recent months has been the ‘Commissario Ricciardi’ mysteries set in Naples in the early 1930s, by Italian crime writer Maurizio De Giovanni.
Like all good fictional cops, Ricciardi has a side-kick – Brigadier Raffaele Maione – and naturally it’s a case of opposites attracting. One is handsomely slim, rich, introverted and has at least two female stalkers as well as a dark secret (a bit of a psychic he can hear the dying words of murder victims), the other is a jovial family man who loves his food – and has a dark secret (his policeman son has been killed in the line of duty and the wrong man sent to prison for the murder). Both are honest cops; which makes life difficult given that the cases which they investigate are enmeshed in layers of social division between the very rich and the very poor, the power and influence of the Catholic church and political infighting between the ruling Fascist party, its various militias and the dreaded OVRA, Mussolini’s secret police.
By My Hand is the fifth in the series, the books usually being subtitled to a particular season such as ‘The Summer (or Autumn) of Comissario Ricciardi’, this one being ‘The Christmas of…’ and I know there are dedicated readers out there who cannot contemplate anything other than reading a series in sequence. For those dedicated, if slightly blinkered, fans I suppose I should recommend I Will Have Vengeance – ‘the Winter of Comissario Ricciardi’ and then they can work their way through Springtime, Summer and Autumn before reaching ‘Christmas’ and By My Hand, which is published this month by Europa Editions.
But really, these books are so well written (and seamlessly translated) that no compulsive-obsessive behaviour is necessary. They can be read out of order without any serious health hazard – I started with #3 and look at me… – and although there is still one I haven’t read, I am already looking forward to the next, Viper, which I believe is due out in the UK in March next year.