Reading de Giovanni is a pleasure to be savoured, he is one of Italy’s finest crime writers and he has honed his style to perfection. His novels have a light feel, they are very readable, but there are dark tones between the lines, an edginess that adds a thrill. Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone is the tale of a vicious double slaying and a twelve-year-old girl who may be the victim of incest. Domestic drama and hot blooded murder take centre stage in this sharp contemporary thriller.

Readers engage with new novels intellectually or emotionally; some intrigue, other terrify. The best writers draw you in on several levels at the same time; de Giovanni certainly does that. Whether it’s one of his contemporary crime novels, the Bastards of Pizzofalcone series and Crocodile, or one of his historical Commissario Ricciardi tales, the intelligence, emotional pull of the characters, wonderful storytelling and flair get you. I am always intrigued from the first page of a new de Giovanni novel, I’m excited to find out what is going on and what is happening to the characters. I feel comfortable in De Giovanni’s hands, in some strange way, reading him is soothing.

You could read Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone as a standalone, the recap is clever. However, the relationship between the detectives and their back stories, developed in the first two novels, are fascinating. Their attitudes and experience feed into these investigations in subtle ways (we get a sense of their personal prejudices for example). How the Pizzofalcone team have been perceived by headquarters and their colleagues at other stations also play into this tale. In any case, reading The Bastards of Pizzofalcone and Darkness for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone is a pleasure, so start there.

Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone opens with the team gathering for another day. We get a sense of the tensions and friendships at the station. Commissario Palma is in charge of a motley crew. “The Bastards” are under a cloud, the Pizzofalcone police station is under temporary reprieve after a number of former officers were caught reselling drugs confiscated in raids. Each and every one here is doing penance for a past slip or misdemeanour. A call summons Lojacano and di Nardi to the scene of a double murder.

Meanwhile, old office squabbles resume. That is, until they notice that a middle-aged woman appears to be waiting patiently to be addressed. Professoressa (teacher) Emilia Macchiaroli tells her story in a round about way which begins to irritate the officers. She wants to make a complaint, or maybe not a complaint because she is not sure. She thinks one of her pupils, twelve-year-old Martina Parise, is being sexually abused by her father, this is something she has gleaned as the child’s form teacher. The child has since denied it. Reluctantly, perhaps even in disbelief, the team agree to go to the school to investigate.

The murder victims are Biagio and Grazia Varrichio, a brother and sister from Calabria. She was discovered half naked on her bed, he at his desk in another room with his head caved in. The neighbour who found the body says that they were expecting a visitor. Biagio was very nervous about seeing his father again, a man he hasn’t seen for seventeen years, he was due at the time of the attack. The father has been in prison for sixteen of those seventeen years, his crime – murder.

The opening chapter at the station brilliantly captures the characters and their relationships and we are soon up to speed with their lives, which is important because the personal stories move forward in this novel. If you are familiar with “The Bastards” you will be aware of Pisanelli’s on-going investigation into a number of suicides that he considers to be murder, but he just can’t prove it to anyone else’s satisfaction yet. It’s a source of frustration in his work. I really enjoyed the on going back stories which are a feature of all de Giovanni’s novels. They reflect old fashioned and contemporary attitudes and examine the regional differences between the detectives too. We get to see how being a police officer affects the way they think about life and your family, and vice versa.

In this novel the weather is a real mood setter and, of course, the cases are not as open and shut as they first seem. De Giovanni does a nice line in red herrings but always remains grounded and realistic. The Bastards of Pizzofalcone was a sharp start to a new series this novel is more contemplative but all the better for that. This series is now maturing nicely.

I prefer de Giovanni’s historical crime series set in Mussolini’s fascist Italy, but that is only a personal preference, not a criticism. This series is growing on me more and more with each book. As I become more familiar with the characters. There is real depth here but the stories are not too dark for readers who prefer lighter crime fiction to take a punt.

Brilliantly translated by Antony Shugaar from Gelo per i Bastardi di Pizzofalcone (2014).

Paul Burke 4/4

Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni
Europa Editions 9781609455255 pbk Jun 2019