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by Carlo Lucarelli
Vintage, August 2004
176 pages
ISBN: 0099459434

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The idea that the only witness of the crime is a blind person is practically a cliché, but Carlo Lucarelli's deployment of it, in his 12th crime novel, ALMOST BLUE, is anything but predictable. As translated from Lucarelli's 1997 original by ALTA Fellow Award winner Oona Stransky, this psychological thriller is characterised by unique, quirky characters and gorgeous verbal detail.

A Crime Writers of America Gold Dagger Award nominee, ALMOST BLUE is a page-turner. However, while racing toward the denouement, you'll want to linger with the multiple-sense first-person descriptions; to turn pages back to re-examine clues -- and not only the clues to the mystery.

Eschewing the whodunit format, Lucarelli uses a triptych of first-person narrators: the detective, the witness, and the murderer. The detective, Inspettore Grazia Negro, is a hard-boiled noir type whose resolve might make Sam Spade feel nervous.

She is also the only woman in the homicide unit, which is housed, ironically, in an archaic disused monastery. Underestimated by coworkers who assume competence and beauty don't come in the same (female) body, the Inspettore knows that looks can deceive -- and the policemen aren't the only ones taken in by their assumptions. A serial killer is on the loose, but the witnesses claim to have seen what appears to be a collection of different people.

Across the city, Simone Martini, blind since birth, never leaves his attic room but inhabits a crowded world. A tech guru, the reclusive Simone eavesdrops on local mobile phones and radios. He catches the detail the other witnesses miss: the killer's voice. He also knows something else that the Inspettore's colleagues miss: how to desire without voyeurism, and to express love in a language that's so original that all myths and assumptions become irrelevant.

Simone's narration in particular is wonderfully lyrical. Using every sense except sight and revising the vocabulary of the visual, he creates a surreal universe reminiscent of Cubist paintings and Modernist fiction. "Some colours," he says, "signify the very idea they contain. For the sound of the idea contained in them. Green, with that harsh r sound that scratches and flares its way out of the middle of the word, is the colour of something that scathes and burns, like the sun. But blue, on the other hand, is the colour of beauty. For example, for me, a pretty girl might have blonde hair, but a truly beautiful girl would be barefoot, brave, and have blue hair."

Stransky's choice to leave many words in the Italian, such as professional titles, place names, and some slang expressions and exclamations, helps create the convincing Bolognese setting. Having read ALMOST BLUE, I hope that Lucarelli's preceding novels will soon appear in the English language, in Stransky's translation.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, October 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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