Thursday, 10 October 2013

Italy and Crime Fiction

Like so many lovely places, Italy is a popular setting for crime stories, and I suppose the leading exponent of Italian detective fiction currently known to British readers is Andrea Camilleri, creator of Inspector Montalbano. As the years pass, I draw some comfort from the fact that he did not create his most successful character until he was nearly 70! Like Ellis Peters, he achieved international fame late in life,but it is well deserved. Camilleri comes from Sicily, a gorgeous island I've enjoyed visiting twice, but during my recent holiday I concentrated on exploring the north of the country, and spent a day with Italian friends in Florence.

Florence is the setting for the books by the late Magdalen Nabb, possibly my favourite British author of crime novels set in Italy.The fabulous Duomo also earns a thought-provoking mention in Harlan Coben's Stay Close, which I'm reading in the moment, though that book is firmly set in the US. Flroentine daggers were popular murder weapons during the Golden Age in particular, but I resisted any temptation to invest in one of my own whilst I was in the city.

My visit reminded me that it's a long time since I read any of the Zen novels by the late Michael Dibdin. One I never read was Back to Bologna, but that's now zoomed up the to-read list. I can't recall if he set any of his stories in any of the smaller, but quite breathfaking, places within easy reach of Bologna. Modena, for instance, is famous for its cathedral, and I was also struck by the nearby 'haranguing stone', an elevated slab in the piazza on which wrongdoers were placed to face public opprobrium.

Ferrara is, to my mind, even more impressive, with its terrific moated castle,grassed ramparts and a host of wonderful sights. As I was walking round, the idea for one of the two short stories I mentioned in my blog  post yesterday came to mind.

Finally, Ravenna. It's famous for its mosaics, and these really are dazzling. The old mausoleum and the archaeological museum, with its ivory throne, are among countless sights packed in to a small area, easily walkable. You can also find Dante;'s grave and an interesting exhibition, which gave me a much better understanding of his work (perhaps I should read Dan Brown's Inferno too?) Dorothy L. Sayers translated and admired Dante, but I don't know if she ever visited Ravenna. If so, I'm sure she was impressed. Like Ferrara, it would make a terrific setting for a detective novel, and I'm sure that some writers have already made good use of it. I look forward to tracking down one or two examples.

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