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THE CROCODILE
by Maurizio de Giovanni and Antony Sugaar, trans.
Europa Editions, July 2013
336 pages
$17.00
ISBN: 1609451198


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Europa Editions has just released the third of three police procedural novels written by the immensely popular Italian writer, Maurizio de Giovanni. Previously unknown to English speaking North American audiences, his writing style (as aptly translated here by Antony Sugaar) features engaging protagonists in vivid and darkly drawn locations. The first two to appear in English, I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE and BLOOD CURSE, take place in the Naples of the 1930's and feature Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi. Two more in the series are scheduled for release later this year. I can't wait to read them after falling under de Giovanni's spell following the evil assassin known as The Crocodile in present day Naples. Those who know de Giovanni's work claim that the hero of this book, Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, is as interesting as Ricciardi of the earlier novels.

Originally from Sicily where he had been a much respected detective renowned for his powers of observation, Lojacona has been banished to Naples because a low-life Mafioso fingered him as the mob's police informant. Although he was not officially proved guilty, the implication cost him his career and the love of his wife and daughter who felt disgraced by the mere accusation. In Naples he is isolated from active involvement in any crime investigations and told to keep out of the way and be content with his computer games. His chance to redeem himself comes one night when he is the only officer available to respond to a murder scene. When his boss arrives he is immediately told to leave the scene but not before he points out some discarded tissues marking the murderer's hiding spot, a concealed nook from which he could lie in wait to shoot the victim at point-blank range. That predatory behaviour and the revelation from an analysis of the tissues that they were used to wipe away tears leads the press to brand the killer as the Crocodile, a reptile that is reputed to shed tears while devouring its young. Lojacona was also struck by the absolute devastation of the victim's mother whose face was “collapsing into a silent scream…”

After finding out that the teenage victim had been involved in some minor drug dealing, the Naples police are convinced that this is a Mafia crime. But in quick succession two other teenagers are murdered and like the first victim, each left single parents overwhelmed by the loss of their children. While his colleagues relentlessly continue to search for any link to the Mafia, Lojacona dismisses that theory as the murders do not fit the modus operandi of the mob that he knows so well from Sicilian crimes. Rather he pursues an alternate idea about what possible links there might be among the three parents that would provoke the attacks on their children. Recognizing the validity of his reasoning, Dottoressa Laura Piras, the head of the investigation, restores Lojacona to active duty and together they pursue the murderer, worried that there might even be more victims on the Crocodile's list.

From the opening brief prologue describing "Death" as an invisible shuffling older man arriving in Naples on the 8:14 train, I was hooked by the intensity of this novel. The chilly atmosphere of de Giovanni's descriptions of Naples evoked memories of a visit I made to that city not in summer but in a cold rainy spring. Periodically throughout the novel, the author inserts letters from the old man to his "Sweetheart" describing his feelings and his careful planning but not his motives for the killings. Nevertheless, these letters enhance the description of him as the cold-blooded crocodile patiently stalking his prey. Equally effective is de Giovanni's character development of the victims and their families as well as of the protagonist Lojacono and the Dottoressa Piras. The novel ends with a hint that there will be more stories to come linking these two both professionally and personally. As I said earlier, I can't wait for more absorbing reads from de Giovanni.

§ Ann Pearson is a photographer and retired college Humanities teacher who lives in Montreal

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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