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Novel set in Champoluc, Italian Alps (“The police can be your friend or your worst nightmare”)

24th June 2015

Black Run by Antonio Manzini, novel set in Champoluc, Italian Alps.

IMG_1216Introducing deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone, recently transferred under duress to Val d’Aosta from Rome. His natural habitat is not the sprawling land mass of the Alps in the month of February, covered in deep, freezing snow – he is a townie born and bred. He has history. He also has a curmudgeonly and bullying manner. He has an eye for the ladies. He seems to be a bit of misogynist. In other words, it’s a struggle to warm to him. Like many other fictional police officers, he, too, has a quirk: when he meets people, he sums them up in his head and allocates them an equivalent, often rare, in the animal world. For example, Alfonso Lorisaz is not filed away in his mind simply as a rodent, no, he is a rodent from the suborder Sciuromorpha, specifically, a Castor Fiber, the Eurasian beaver. (I guess the more ‘usual’ proclivities like eating, cooking, origami and drinking treble espressos have already been “bagged” by other European detectives).

One evening, as the snowcats (or piste bashers) prepare the slopes for another day of skiing, driver Amedeo is minding his own business as he ploughs back and forth across the pistes, joint in hand, earbuds blasting music. He is ordered to take a lane down from the ‘Crest’, and as he motors down he crunches over something that turns out to be a body, the snowcat having ground it up with its tillers and splattered corpse components across the snow. It is the body of Leone Miccichè, with the remains of a red cloth wedged down his throat. The unfortunate victim may hale from Sicily but Schiavone decides this is clearly not a Mafia killing; the Mafia either leave the body somewhere really evident, or they hide it completely, so it can never be found (and they often insert a male body part into the mouth, not a piece of cloth, he muses). This is therefore not the work of the Mafia, and he concludes he is looking for a local (he’s clever like that).

This is Rocco Schiavone’s investigation. The people of the close knit communities in the Alps are another species, nothing like the good (and not so good) folk of Rome. Everyone is seemingly related to everyone else. And it is his job to establish the motive and the perpetrator. He is a ball buster, he intimidates and gets his own way. He is not averse to breaking the law himself and is only too willing to team up with his old mate Sebastiano, who has a tip-off to intercept a lorry smuggling drugs from Rotterdam to Turin. They work out the percentage they can cream off. This is a side story, somewhat relevant to the overall plot.

Early on Omar Borghetti, head of the ski school, is in the frame as the primary suspect. He is an old – and seemingly persistent – lover of Miccichè’s wife, Luisa Pec, and Schiavone soon discovers that they regularly still meet up. Is he the culprit, or is he not?

IMG_1015This is a story that will transport you to the Alps, the cold slopes, the stunning scenery, the business of skiing and the community behind a successful resort. We also learn that Aosta, the town where Schiavone is based, is ‘the richest city in Italy, with a per capita income to rival Luxembourg’s‘ – to me, a surprising and interesting fact. The author captures the mix of French  and Italian flavour in this part of the Alps, the wonderfully woody architecture of the rascard (the typical Alpine building of the area), and describes the mind numbing cold; Schiavone is adamant that he will stick to wearing his Clarks desert shoes, totally unsuited to the snow conditions underfoot, and that is something we hear about on several – equally mind numbing – occasions, until he is forced to buy a more hardy pair of boots. Similarly, early on, the author refers time and again to the inebriated Brits who hang around the resort like a Brahms and Liszt chorus group, singing ‘You’ll never walk alone” (monotonous information and adds nothing to the story or the ambience). And as the book ground to its conclusion, I felt the storyline had been incredibly thin. Quite how Schiavone has become Italy’s No.1 Detective (as trumpeted on the cover of my copy, see photos) I have no idea.

Forget Montalbano”  states L’Uomo Vogue on the back cover. Montalbano is the Sicilian Commissario who features in the very successful crime novels by Andrea Camilleri. But Montalbano is lovingly engraved on the heart of many and asking a reader to forget him is akin to ostracising your favourite uncle. It’s just not credible. Ultimately, I know who I would choose to forget.

To be frank, I don’t really think the translation helped. This is a translation for the English speaking market, that is to say the American market. For sure, I am by now used to reading ‘sidewalk’ ‘tire iron’ ‘gotten’ and so forth, but spare me phrases like “..the guy’s holed up with some chippie..” “..he pulled a plastic baggie out his pocket..” (yes, really, a baggie?) or “..the birdies were once again tweeting..” (I got no sense that irony was intended in this particular usage of birdies). The book has essentially lost much of its European provenance (although there are smatterings of Italian to keep the reader on track that it is actually set in Italy). Measurements have been changed from metres (used in Italy) to feet and inches (used in much of the English speaking world, although UK folk are more than used to dealing with metres these days); and shoe sizes are, frankly, all over the place, mainly American sizing but a pair of forty fours (European sizing) slipped in when Schiavone was choosing his new boots.

So, judge for yourself whether – as the back cover of my copy exclaims – Schiavone comes from the “dark metropolis of a novel by James Ellroy” (L’Indice); or “..echoes Dudley Smith from L.A Confidential..” (La Stampa); or even whether Schiavone is “..as bad a cop as Lt. Kojak..” (Repubblica). Have you noticed these are all American comparisons? What possible conclusion might be drawn from this observation, I wonder…..

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 29/06/2015 at 10:04 am

    A great book and a great review 🙂


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