international review: nadia dalbuono, the few

I fished through a pile of books on my side table, trying to figure out which one to read. I like to stay savvy with what’s new, but I don’t have the time, in those precious few hours when the Rocket is asleep, to read all the books I want. I picked up James Ellroy’s Perfidia; it would be my first Ellroy, and I found myself slowly falling into it, until it fell on me. Like a temperamental eight-year-old, it takes a lot to convince me to read books that are too thick, at at some seven hundred pages, I couldn’t bring myself to get past thirty pages that day, but I hope to come back to it. I started Lee Child’s Personal (on the back cover: “And this time…it’s PERSONAL”), again, my first Lee Child; I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought though his completely inability to put a comma in everywhere (and as you know, I love me twenty commas per sentence) was a touch distracting. Everything was brief. I guess it works. I mean. Jack Reacher is quite the speedy hero. Still, I put it down and drifted around the house a little before returning to my pile and picking up Nadia Dalbuono’s The Few.

I’m not an enormous fan of Italian fiction; I’m not besotted with the idea of traveling to Italy and crime authors who write about it tend to make it seem even more grim than Sweden. Mafia-type fiction, also, is not really one of the niches of the crime genre that I find myself drawn to. But the first few pages drew me in enough to curl up on the couch properly, and I had it finished by the next day.Detective Leone Scamarcio is a police officer avoiding his own personal history as much as he can. His father was in the mob, and despite being straight, he thinks (probably correctly) that everyone thinks he’s corrupt. Apparently not his chief though, who calls him to a clandestine meeting where some incriminating photos of a foreign minister and some naked young men have come to light. One of those men has been found gruesomely stabbed in his Trastevere apartment, and this whole thing needs to be solved silently and swiftly before the chief has to answer to a friend in the very highest of places. One of the few clues left in the dead man’s apartment points the trail (unpleasantly) towards the abuse of children, and so Scarmarcio heads down it to a town full of secrets, corruption, and the worst kind of people in the most untouchable of places. As the summer heat gets his colleagues sweating and the minutiae of police politics seems unbearable, Scamarcio can’t help but wonder if there was more good to be done by way of the family industry than in a police force trying to do its best amongst Italy’s crooked dealings.
There are a few too many loose ends in this, and while it’s part of a two-book series, these seem so tied to the specific crime of this book that I’m not sure Dalbuono will tie them up later. There was something about the crime, despite being the hideousness of a child abduction (one thing almost guaranteed to make me feel sick about reading), that felt a little…unenthusiastic? For such a heinous crime I wasn’t as invested as I expected to be. The tale told throughout of a childhood friendship turned criminal and sour has a smaller payoff than I was anticipating. Leone was reputed to have sudden outbursts of violence but nothing much came of it beyond one scene. Nevertheless, it had great pacing, a lot of tension, interesting locales (the cliffside prison was a new one), and kept me happily captivated. Nothing outrageously new to see here, but a hearty crime book on a winter night is worth more than an electric blanket.

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