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Note:  Ray Bradbury was WINNER of the National Book Foundation Medal for his Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, WINNER of the National Medal of Arts, and RECIPIENT of a Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prize Committee.

“Bradbury’s crime suspense fiction reveals what Damon Knight called Bradbury’s prime area of interest:  ‘the fundamental precautional fears and longings and desires: the rage at being born; the will to be loved; the longing to communicate; the hatred of parents and siblings, the fear of things that are not the self.’ ” – from the Introduction by Jonathan R. Eller for Killer, Come Back to Me

cover bradbury killer come back to meCelebrating author Ray Bradbury’s Centennial (1920 – 2020), Hard Case Crime has published this “definitive” collection of twenty short crime stories, some of them written when Ray Bradbury was barely twenty years old.  Successful in getting his crime fiction published in “detective pulp” magazines at an early age, he was able to gain an audience during the 1940s, before his fantasy and science fiction fully caught on.  Many of his crime stories were published in well known “pulp magazines” as he worked to develop his organizational skills, his pacing, and his recognition of a reader’s own irrational fears.  His ability to suggest narrative direction by leaving it up to the reader to draw the ultimate conclusions from information he has sown throughout the narrative is one of his strongest talents.  Jonathan R. Eller, whose quotation introduces this review, indicates that these crime stories helped Bradbury to become “a masterful explorer of the dark fantastic; a universally recognized guardian of freedom of the imagination; an abiding presence in Hollywood, and a visionary of the Space Age…an explorer of all things that make us human.”

High School Graduation photo of Ray Bradbury

High School graduation photo of Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s first published story, “Killer, Come Back to Me,” appears early in this collection.  Here he divides a twenty-page story into three chapters, the first of which describes Julie, a femme fatale, and Broghman, a young man who conducts a robbery alone and then finds himself unexpectedly working with her. The second chapter of “Killer” describes the workings of a crime syndicate in Los Angeles and Broghman’s proof that he is not afraid of them; and the third takes place at a meeting between Broghman and the head of the syndicate, who describes his group as “respectable businessmen.”  Broghman’s final test of self and his suitability for life as a member of the syndicate take place here, as he determines to prove his toughness, acting in a way which leaves no doubt that he will not be a “desk punk,” and that he is committed to the syndicate’s long-term goals.  A surprise at the end puts the story and its grander implications into perspective.  One of Bradbury’s best early stories, this one has individualized characters, a clear sense of direction, complications to the growing love story, and enough surprises to keep the reader fully attentive and involved. “The Trunk Lady” (1944),  another of the early stories, is also well drawn and introduces some of Bradbury’s motifs and themes, including a child in a highly dysfunctional family, a body that may or may not be a mannequin (a motif which appears more than once in the collection), and two deaths which the family will need to explain to the police.

Venice, Los Angeles, where the story "Where Everything Ends" takes place.

Venice, part of Los Angeles, setting for the story “Where Everything Ends”

Other stories take Bradbury in new directions.  “Where Everything Ends” (1949), the source for the book Death is a Lonely Business, takes place in California’s Venice by the Sea, thirty years after Venice ceased being a tourist destination.  Throughout this story, Bradbury’s use of description is particularly vibrant:  “The beat of the ocean comes in a kind of salt anger upon piers, rocks and sand flats.  There, the oil wells knit land and sea together with pumping black fingers.” The wagons and animal cages from the old circus, the gondolas with their green lanterns, and everything once clean and new, are now rotting and rusting in the water.  A murder has taken place, and the victim is a friend of Steve Michaels, a police officer who is determined to find his friend’s murderer. An old man is being blackmailed, accidents are happening at night to oil equipment, and the police are attributing everything to accidents. Two additional murders, an underwater fight to the death, and a final murder keep the action high.

With great irony, Bradbury has the three women attending the fllm of "Welcome Danger" with Harold Lloyd

With great irony, Bradbury has three women attend the fllm of “Welcome Danger” with Harold Lloyd

Of particular interest to those (like me) who have loved Bradbury’s first novel, Dandelion Wine (1957), are three other stories.  “The Whole Town’s Sleeping,” also written in the 1950s, is said to have inspired part of Dandelion Wine and is one of Bradbury’s most famous short stories. Taking place in small town Illinois, it describes three single women in their thirties who decide to go to the movies at night, despite the fact that two other women have been strangled in the past two months, and a third woman has disappeared.  Lavinia Nibbs, the leader and most independent of the group, is insistent that they go see Harold Lloyd in “Welcome, Danger,” even after she and her friend Francine, while walking a shortcut, discover the body of the missing Eliza Ramsell.  They, and another friend who joins them, decide to go to the movies anyway.  Later, Lavinia accompanies the other two home, then returns to her own place alone, refusing the chance to stay with them overnight, despite the threat of “The Lonely One.”

dandelion wine cover“At Midnight in the Month of June,” also written in the 1950s and involving Lavinia, continues the plot of that story, but exactly what happens is left to the alert reader to discover from the story’s hints. “The Utterly Perfect Murder” (1971),  as Katharine Carroll of Hard Case Crime points out, also revisits the setting of Dandelion Wine one final time “for a breathtaking tale about closure,” a conclusion not only to the Dandelion Wine story but also to this collection itself.  As main character Doug Spaulding visits the Illinois town where he grew up, he tosses some gravel up to tap the window of the bedroom where he had lain every morning of his first twelve years.  Then he and his “young self” run out of Green Town, and back…toward Now and Today for the rest of [their] life.”

Photos.  Ray Bradbury’s high school graduation picture appears on https://en.wikipedia.org

bradbury adult-Venice, part of Los Angeles, is shown on https://www.kcet.org

The poster of Harold Lloyd in “Welcome Danger,” an ironic title for the film visited by three women, is from https://en.wikipedia.org

The cover for Dandelion Wine may be found on https://www.dpspbs.com

The late photo of Ray Bradbury appears on https://en.wikipedia.org

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Historical, Crime, Noir, Short Stories
Written by: Ray Bradbury
Published by: Hard Case Crime
Date Published: 08/18/2020
ISBN: 978-1789095395
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

D. A. Mishani–THREE

“They met on a dating site for divorced singles.  His profile was unexciting, which was exactly why she wrote to him.  Forty-two years old, divorced once, lives in a Tel Aviv suburb.  Not ‘excited to swallow life whole’ or ‘on a self-discovery journey I’d like you to join me on….’  Three pictures…all of which showed something reassuring about his face, nothing too special.”

cover threeWinner of three European prizes for his award-winning detective series featuring police inspector Avraham Avraham, D. A. Mishani changes gears here with this standalone novel.   Though he employs all his talents and experience as a detective story writer here in pacing his story and its complications, his primary focus is on the psychology of three women seeking companionship from a man who is looking for a change of scenery without serious commitment.  Divided into three parts, the entire first part concerns Orna, the recently divorced mother of a sensitive young son who is receiving therapy for his difficulties in adjusting to the family’s new lives.  His father has quickly remarried a woman with two children and has moved with them to Nepal while Orna and her son remain in Tel Aviv.

Ancient St. Andrews, now a Scottish guesthouse in Jerusalem, to which one of the women is invited by her lover.

Ancient St. Andrews, now a Scottish guesthouse in Jerusalem, to which one of the women is invited by her lover.

Son Eran has not seen his father, received a note, or had a phone call from him in months, and Orna has been trying to help her boy while working full-time as a teacher and adjusting to her own changed life and expectations after the divorce.  When she meets a divorced man on a dating website, she is careful to avoid giving much personal information or assuming an instant connection with him, and he, too, is being careful.  Both parties withhold information and hide it behind general statements instead of being open and honest as they conduct their affair. It is not until the hundred-page mark that real action takes place and Mishani’s fame as a mystery writer begins to become obvious as the narrative becomes more plot-based.

Hotel Trianon in Bucharest, to which another woman is invited

Hotel Trianon in Bucharest, to which another woman is invited

Part II introduces Emilia, another young woman, this one an immigrant from Latvia. She has been living as a caretaker for an elderly pediatrician and working with his more agile wife for two years, and when the old man dies, Emilia is out of a job.  Seeking part-time work with another elderly woman, she gets the job but has no place to live, little money for food, and major financial problems.  When Adina, her elderly charge, goes to a nursing home, Emilia begins to see ghosts and seeks solace in a local church, where the priest feels like her son.  Part III introduces a new point of view, that of Ella, the third young woman, one with a family who is trying to complete a thesis for a belated Master’s degree.  Ella, like Orna and Emilia, also keeps her life hidden, even when a man tries to befriend her at the cafe where she spends much time working on her research papers.  Unlike her predecessors, however, Ella has a secret agenda which makes her much less vulnerable.

One man enjoys bike-riding in Yarkon Park.

Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, where one man enjoys bike-riding.

To avoid spoilers, I have deliberately omitted key elements which turn this psychological study of three women into a dramatic action novel which speeds along as it absorbs elements from all the preceding sections and combines them into a carefully constructed and un-put-downable mystery novel.  Elements of foreshadowing, which most readers will recognize and question as they are reading the stories of the three women, suggest further action and perhaps overlaps during the early stages, and as the novel progresses, filled with “ah-ha” moments, even names begin to repeat.  Some characters appear in more than one section, and time speeds up in the final section with important scenes taking place years after the major events which took place in Parts I and II.  The book, though different from what it appears to be, at first, is an exciting crime story with well-developed characters, several climactic scenes related to individual women, and a more-than satisfying conclusion.     *  *   *

418mjuDB+3L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Note:  My understanding of this novel became clearer with a sudden, accidental discovery.  The advance review copy which I received, and the finished copy which has been published in the meantime, both include a quotation from Israel’s Haaretz Book Review on the cover, indicating that this novel “will be remembered as a work that heralded a new-wave in Israeli fiction just as My Michael, by Amos Oz once did.”   

Though I have liked and reviewed My Michael, I did not understand what “new-wave” was being heralded here and was curious about it.  On the haaretz.com site,  I found a most revealing interview between Ayelett Shani and author Dror Mishani, in which the two discuss why “crime novels don’t do so well” in Israel.  In short, Mishani says, Israeli literature has traditionally focused on elements of national identity, not on the personal identities of citizens, especially miscreants, who challenge public values, morality, and national goals. 

Author D. A. Mishani

Author D. A. Mishani

In addition, police are not traditionally celebrated in Israeli novels, and the western cliché of the sad and lonely detective who drowns his sorrows in alcohol does not exist in Israel.  In Three the police do not appear until near the ending of the novel, and little time is spent on the development of a case against the criminal because the reader has known the who and why of each crime from the outset.  The imaginary back and forth between reader and author common to western crime novels, as the reader tests his/her own thoughts of the crime against what the police believe and discover in the novel, does not occur here, nor is it needed. Readers interested in the history of Israeli crime fiction, will find this interview both entertaining and revelatory, especially in relation to this unusual and intriguing novel.

Photos.  Ancient St. Andrews, now a Scottish guesthouse in Jerusalem, may be found on https://www.itraveljerusalem.com

The Hotel Trianon in Bucharest, to which one woman was invited is from https://www.travelagewest.com

Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv is a favorite bike-riding spot for one man.  https://www.lonelyplanet.com/

The interview of Dror Mishani  by Ayelett Shani appears here on Haaretz:  https://www.haaretz.com

My Michael, reviewed in January, 2012, may be found here:  http://marywhipplereviews.com

The author’s photo is on https://www.vjbooks.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Book Club Suggestions, Israel, Literary, Mystery, Thriller, Psychological study
Written by: D. A. Mishani
Published by: Europa Editions
Date Published: 08/18/2020
ISBN: 978-1609456092
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“In the summer of 1840, the whole of London, from monarch to maidservants, was gripped by the unfolding drama in Norfolk street, but behind it lay another story, a work of fiction, and an ardent debate about the dangers of glamorizing vice and whether or not serious crime should be portrayed in fiction at all.”

cover harman murder by the bookOn May 5, 1840, Lord William Russell, a quiet, elderly member of the aristocracy, was found in the bedroom of his unpretentious London townhouse with his throat slit so severely that his head was almost detached.  Other wounds to his chest were equally horrifying.  The shock of the murder reverberated throughout the city, especially among the upper classes, who well knew his prominent family and that of his deceased wife. The servant classes, including Lord Russell’s own servants, were all terrified by the potential investigation which might involve them or someone they knew well.  A next door neighbor reported that he had heard a brief cry in the middle of the night, and a visitor at a house across the street thought he had seen a naked man through the windows of the Russell house, but there had been no uproar during the time the murder actually took place.  The downstairs rooms of the house, in disarray, looked as if they had been burgled, though only a few small things seemed to be missing. When the police came and investigated, they added to the disarray with their own investigations and minor discoveries.  With a question as to motivation for the murder, and the murder scene so surprisingly lacking in blood, none of which appeared on the clothing or uniforms of the staff, there were few physical clues. The servants’ quarters and residences were searched with no result.

Author photo by Caroline Forbes.

Author photo by Caroline Forbes.

The social and political situation in England in 1839 – 1840, which involved serious attention being focused on the poor and the non-aristocratic working class, quickly becomes an issue for author Claire Harman, who sees and investigates this murder and its aftereffects as a possible symptom of social change during this period.  London was “teeming with immigrants, the unemployed, and a burgeoning working class who were more literate and organized than ever before.”  The winter of 1939 had been one of “mass rallies by Chartists demanding universal suffrage,” and in some places had turned into bloody riots.  Over two hundred Chartists had been convicted of high treason for their actions and were transported out of the country.  Several fiction writers of the period came under fire for “writing fictions that glamorized vice and made heroes of criminals.”  Popular books now were seen by some as “pandering to the lowest…full of violent excitements and vulgarity that could all too easily lead susceptible readers astray,” and a whole genre of  “Newgate books,” for the masses, evolved.

Willian Harrison Ainsworth (1905 - 1882)

William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882)

One such book, written by William Harrison Ainsworth, “the golden boy of his generation,”  was Jack Sheppard, which became, for some social critics, a cause célèbre, the story of a real-life petty thief and escape artist who became increasingly violent as he grew older.  In a time in which copyrights did not exist, the story about this robber who escapes punishment for his crimes for years could be used and made into a play by anyone at all.  Jack Sheppard, was, in fact, turned into six different dramas by six different authors, with all the dramas playing simultaneously in London to huge crowds at the time of the Russell murder. Ainsworth did not make a cent from their success.  A book about Sir Samuel Romilly, who had also died from having his throat slit, was found at the Russell crime scene and looked suspicious, since the servants claimed that Sir William never read in bed. Quieter writers, like Charles Dickens, had published Oliver Twist as a serial in 1937 – 39, detailing the life of an impoverished boy who generated much sympathy, and at the time of Lord Russell’s murder, Dicken’s Barnaby Rudge was gaining readers with its brutal stabbing.  William Makepeace Thackeray criticized the Newgate novels for their sentimental and sensational content – and also criticized Dickens on the same grounds.  In 1839 – 40, Thackeray wrote Catherine under an assumed name, describing the life of a female murderer whom he had intended to make repulsive and whose crimes he planned to use as moral lessons.  Then he discovered, to his amazement, that he had unwittingly made her far more sympathetic than he had intended.

"1840 watercolor of Oxford's assassination attempt. Oxford stands in front of the Green Park railings, pointing a pistol at Victoria and the Prince Consort, while a policeman runs towards him. One of the Queen's attendants is on horseback at left."

1840 Watercolor of Oxford’s assassination attempt. To see enlargement, click on photo, and when the small copy opens on Wikipedia, click on it again to enlarge. Fascinating accuracy.

In the meantime, Norfolk St., the site of the Russell murder, became a tourist destination, with hundreds of interested onlookers crowding the sidewalks around the house.  Even Prince Albert became interested in the investigation.  In a consummate irony, he and Queen Victoria themselves would become the targets of an assassination plot by Edward Oxford, just a month after the Russell murder.   Amidst all the Newgate novels and plays going on simultaneously, and with the real life murders and attempted murders of Lord Russell and later the Queen and Prince Albert, interest in London crime was high.  News magazines and papers were selling wildly. The Russell investigation continued, and shortly afterward, Lord Russell’s Swiss valet, François Benjamin Courvoisier was arrested, consigned to await trial at Newgate Prison.  Ironically, Edward Oxford was also there, awaiting trial for his attempted murders of the royal family.  Both men were convicted, but with different fates.

Francis Benjamin Courvoisier, former valet of Lord William Russell

Francis Benjamin Courvoisier, former valet of Lord William Russell

Claire Harman’s careful research and her eye for telling details, even as she focuses on the broad theme of murder in 1840, and the controversy over whether murder is an appropriate subject of fiction, make this an absorbing study.  She draws in the reader with her selection of facts and her elucidation of the goals of literature as seen by famed authors of the day, making them almost as compelling as the gruesome realities of real murder. The many undeveloped details surrounding Lord Russell’s murder, the lack of scientific research, and the omission of any real motive make the reader question the guilt of Courvoisier – or at least question whether he operated alone. He changes his account of the murder several times and even becomes involved in the literary controversy of whether a novel can kill, claiming that he first got the idea of the killing when he saw the play of Jack Sheppard.  His demeanor at the conclusion of his trial is bewildering.  Author Claire Harman in her “Postscript” chapter offers many new possibilities regarding the murderer and much to think about regarding censorship and freedom of the press.

ALSO by Claire Harman: Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

PHOTOS:   The author photo by Caroline Forbes appears on https://www.startribune.com

The picture of William Harrison Ainsworth is from https://www.britannica.com

The 1840 watercolor of the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Edward Oxford may be found on https://en.wikipedia.org

The print of Francis Benjamin Courvoisier appears on http://www.executedtoday.com/tag/francois-benjamin-courvoisier/


MURDER by the BOOK: The Crime that Shocked Dickens's London
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Book Club Suggestions, Historical, Non-fiction, Social and Political Issues, England
Written by: Claire Harman
Published by: Vintage/Knopf
Date Published: 02/04/2020
ISBN: 978-0525436157
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

Note:  Legna Rodriguez Iglesias is a WINNER of international prizes for her poetry, her plays, and her short stories.

“To write a book whose leitmotif is the bond, affectionate or grotesque, with a pet, in this case a dog, is not a thing she was the first to come up with.  Literary history is full of similar examples.  Even Anton Chekhov, a man of theater, wrote about a dog, and I’m referring to a very serious story published for children called “Whitebrow.”  – Comment by one of the author’s mentors.

cover favorite girlfriend french bulldog

Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by telling her story in fifteen seemingly stand-alone episodes, narrated by an unusual assortment of people.  My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog  also comes with its own style, set of themes, and characters, which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation.  Though most of these early stories are fairly straightforward, the atmosphere feels different – a bit “off” – even unique – among all other story collections I have ever read.  Some of this is related to the circumstances in which the characters find themselves.  These include a young woman who wants a visa but is dressed improperly for her ministry appointment, a woman virulently at odds with her mother, a forty-year-old family man who pretends to himself that he excels in a totally different kind of life, and a traveler to Miami who meets friends, gets a tattoo, and experiences new love.

Mt. Sinai

Mt. Sinai

The characters begin to seem more and more offbeat when they include a person who befriends an android who will edit a text, someone whose father has turned into a tree, an elderly grandfather speaking from the dead, and a woman invited to a world poetry festival, where she is the only person wearing a series of masks.  In principle, she believes that masks are political positions, logical reactions, and an attitude toward life, always hiding the person beneath it.  Many, if not most, characters are planning a journey into the future and into a new life, in part because “The worst part of being no one is not exactly as logic would have it – assuming it is logical to be someone – being no one, but rather knowing, and on top of that accepting, that you are no one here and now.  The phenomenon happens all the time, in any society and in any system.”

Black Prince flower.

Black Prince flower.

A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but she leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at Mt. Sinai, or her interpretation of it.  This character is begging God to take her brother far away and out of her life.  She is deaf at the beginning of this story, and becomes blind as it develops, then mute, as God gives her the answer she may deserve.  She doesn’t “get it,” however.  “I still wonder what I said wrong, Lord,” she replies.  Some stories are so universal in setting and ideas that location is relatively unimportant.  In “Wanda,” a story written as a poem, the darkest of dark ironies prevail. A young married couple, childhood sweethearts, have been together for twenty years and have two children.  Then the husband changes emotionally, and his wife wants him to leave.  When he comes to her door two months later, the result is a bloody massacre, resulting with both the wife and husband dead.  The family insists on having a joint wake, however, and their children are insistent that there be no flowers, especially “black princes.”  “Kids are like that,” the narrator explains.

French Buildog

French Bulldog

The “elephant in the room” here, is actually a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book.  Several of the short poems which introduce the stories at the beginning of the collection, refer to the French bulldog very briefly.  The reader “saves” this information as the succeeding stories evolve.  The first such poem, which acts as the epigraph, reads “My favorite girlfriend was/ a French bulldog. / When I scolded her,/ she peed herself.”  The next, a practical note, is “A French bulldog/ and a telephone/ cost the same,/ and both can provide you with/ the affection/ you lack.”  But French bulldogs can also be fussy:  “On preferring/ the cheese croissant,/ my French bulldog/ demonstrates to me,/ in the first place,/ that he has very good taste,/ and in the second,/ that he will be very hard/ to please.”  At this point, about a third of the way through the book, the introductory poems and the narratives stop referring to the French bulldog, and as readers approach the end of the book, they may question why the French bulldog is part of the significant title, when it plays such a small role overall.  Then, suddenly, it all makes sense.  The French bulldog becomes a narrator and sets the characters and their lives into perspective.

Legna Rodriguez Ignesias

Author Legna Rodriguez Iglesias

Legna Rodriguez Iglesias is a challenging writer for those who are accustomed to clear  beginnings, middles, and ends to their books and stories, and her characters are sometimes so offbeat that predicting where she may be going with them is not possible. Her dark humor and sense of irony make these stories more human, however, and her themes of isolation, the search for love, the need to feel safe, the urge for independence, and the complexities of family are universal.  Readers looking for literary adventure will find that this collection of stories will take them in new and fascinating directions down pathways they may never have explored.  If you decide to take that route, just do not forget to take your French bulldog with you.  You may need him.

Photos. Mount Sinai, where one character talks with God.  https://en.wikipedia.org

The Black Prince flower, a variety of hollyhock.  https://www.amazon.com

A French Bulldog.  https://www.alamy.com

The author’s photo: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Cuba, Experimental, Literary, Short Stories
Written by: Legna Rodriguez Iglesias
Published by: McSweeney's
Date Published: 07/14/2020
ISBN: 978-1944211776
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

“Lojacono…had remained in the apartment alone.  It was something he always did, if at all possible.  He was convinced that in certain situations something was left hovering in the air, like a particulate cloud of emotions, a tear in the surface of reality through which a barely noticeable stream flowed, disappearing entirely once the place became the Murder Scene.”

cover puppiesWith the latest entry in his crime series set in Pizzofalcone, a precinct high atop a hill in Naples, author Maurizio de Giovanni adds another layer to the characters who have made themselves so intriguing to readers of the previous four novels in this series.  The police department in Pizzofalcone consists of outcasts from other police departments all over Italy, new officers who have replaced the original “Bastards of Pizzofalcone,” all but two members of which were dismissed for corruption. Each new member of the force has come with some kind of “baggage,” however, including, in the case of Lojacono, the false accusation by a low level crook that Lojacono was an informant for organized crime. Gradually, over the course of the series, Lojacono and his new partners find success in their jobs, and even come to like and trust each other.

Maurizio-De-Giovanni-250x250Known for his noir murder mysteries – and an additional series of nine novels set in Mussolini’s Italy, the broadly based Ricciardi series – author de Giovanni has mellowed since the first book in the Pizzofalcone series, The Crocodile.  In that book, Lojacono, newly arrived in Naples from Sicily, identifies and removes a killer of young people in what is by far the darkest noir crime novel that de Giovanni has ever written. In The Crocodile, Lojacono is operating virtually on his own, with most of his new fellow officers convinced, wrongly, that the murders of young people are being conducted by the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia.  Earning his stripes with his own work on that case, Lojacono develops a friendship with the new head of investigation, Laura Piras, from Sardinia, and begins to feel like part of the new group of police he has joined in Naples.  The later mysteries in the series, including this one, give readers a chance to see the six-member team in action, with the characters becoming more fully developed and revealing their personal sides as they develop investigative talents and personal skills they never realized they had.

The steep hills of Pizzofalcone require some unusual road work.

The steep hills of Pizzofalcone require some unusual road work.

With a title like Puppies, this latest Pizzofalcone mystery sounds more like a “cozy” than a noir mystery.  De Giovanni, however, is clever.  He draws in readers with the action here, starting with the last thoughts of a dying woman, followed by a section in which two people are talking about leaving something – not identified as human or animal – outside in an alley where it will get noticed without delay.  The novel then focuses on officer Romano, a hulk who has trouble controlling his temper.  As Romano leaves for work, he passes garbage cans in the alley, just as a “broken doll” starts to cry.  A newborn baby has been left with the trash.  By the time the police get to the scene of the baby, Romano, in a panic, is trying to warm it and help it breathe.  The baby  has a serious infection, but Romano refuses to let her stay alone at night at the hospital.  He is asked to give the baby a name so she will seem more “real” while in the hospital.  No puppies are mentioned at all until about fifty pages into the book.  Gradually, the reader comes to understand that “puppies” are symbolic of lives that cannot survive without help.

Santa Maria degli Angeli in Pizzofalcone.

Santa Maria degli Angeli in Pizzofalcone.

As the search begins to find the mother of the baby,  a different crime becomes a focus, the murder of a young Eastern European woman who has been working in Naples. Subplots galore emerge.  A young boy,  an immigrant from Sri Lanka, sees and approaches Aragona, the least popular officer of the Pizzofalcone group, the son of a wealthy family with political connections.  The boy’s little dog has been stolen, and he is heartbroken. Though the officer has no interest in pets or immigrants, he takes some interest in the boy’s problem when he discovers that other small animals and pets throughout the city are also disappearing.  Over the course of the novel, this officer, who is a lost cause in the previous three novels, becomes far more human than anyone would ever expect and makes changes in his life.  At the same time, an elderly priest describes his personal goals regarding people without hope who end up as suicides, of which there are more than usual in Pizzofalcone.  The oldest member of the police of Pizzofalcone is also investigating these suicides from a different angle.  Complications in the love lives of several of the characters are another major focus at the end of the novel.

Aragona lives at the Hotel Mediterraneo and enjoys breakfast and the attention of a young waitress.

Aragona lives at the Hotel Mediterraneo where he enjoys breakfast and the attention of a young waitress.

Readers of Maurizio de Giovanni, whether they be of the Pizzofalcone series or the Ricciardi series or both, know well that the author’s focus throughout nearly all of his novels is on the human side of crime and the people involved in it.  He is not afraid to show characters as they live their lives and deal with the conflicts between what’s “right” and what is legally correct.  His characters are not geniuses – they are far more real and far more attuned to living a “good” life than to being correct. He sees the dark side, but he also sees and appreciates the wonders that sometimes happen when a character falls in love and suddenly discovers the joys of sharing a life.  The author also has a tendency to include a little spiritual “magic” within dramatic circumstances at times of crisis.  The opening quotation, in which Lojacono comments on the “tear in the surface of reality” which sometimes happens in the aftermath of a terrible event, might just as easily have been made by Commissario Ricciardi in the Ricciardi series.  Ricciardi’s special talent is that he can “speak” to a murder victim if he visits the murder scene immediately after it happens.  Dark crime sometimes does “speak” to those who want to help, as the reader learns here – but there is nothing “cozy” about it.

Also by de Giovanni:     THE BASTARDS OF PIZZOFALCONE (Lojacono #2),    THE BOTTOM OF YOUR HEART (Ricciardi  #7)     BLOOD CURSE (Ricciardi #2),    BY MY HAND (Ricciardi #5),    COLD FOR THE BASTARDS OF PIZZOFALCONE (Lojacono #4).    THE CROCODILE (Lojacono #1),    DARKNESS FOR THE BASTARDS OF PIZZOFALCONE (Lojacono #3),    THE DAY OF THE DEAD (Ricciardi #4),    EVERYONE IN THEIR PLACE (Ricciardi #3),    GLASS SOULS: MOTHS FOR COMMISSARIO RICCIARDI (Ricciardi #8) ,    I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE (Ricciardi#1),    NAMELESS SERENADE (Ricciardi #9),    VIPER (Ricciardi #6)

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.toulouse-polars-du-sud.com

One of Pizzofalcone’s famous “ramp roads” is shown on https://www.napoliflash24.it/

Santa Maria degli Angeli in Pizzofalcone, one of Italy’s beautiful, old churches.  https://www.tripadvisor.it

Aragona lives at the Hotel Mediterraneo, where he enjoys breakfast and the attention of a young waitress.  https://www.letsbookhotel.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Italy, Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Maurizio de Giovanni
Published by: Europa, World Noir
Date Published: 07/21/2020
ISBN: 978-1609456047
Available in: Ebook Paperback


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