Commissario Alec Blume returns for a third time in Conor Fitzgerald’s THE NAMESAKE (Bloomsbury, £11.99). Blume is American-born, but has lived in Italy since his teens, which gives him an unusual take on the country: he retains his outsider’s eye for Italy’s beauty and foibles, while at the same time he is embedded enough to be fully aware of its social and cultural intricacies.
The novel opens with the apparent kidnapping of a teenage girl, and Fitzgerald sets the tone with his very first line: ‘Before we begin,’ said the magistrate, ‘I want you all to know that there is no chance of a happy ending to this story.’
Shortly afterwards, an insurance agent is found murdered - an insurance agent who has the great misfortune to have the same name as a magistrate who is investigating a high-ranking member of the Ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia.
Blume’s own investigations into the case, alongside his subordinate and lover, Caterina, are hampered when he is contacted by one of the many shadowy Italian secret service agencies. It appears that the Ndrangheta is investigating Agazio Curmaci, a Calabrian operating in Germany, and is doing so in tandem with the German secret service. Blume is asked to travel to the south of Italy with a rogue Italian agent who is tracking Curmaci, and who may well be intent on personal vengeance.
THE NAMESAKE is as much an exploration of the social, cultural and political factors that led to the rise of the Ndrangheta as it is a conventional police procedural, and it is dense with detail about an organisation that is far more secretive than the mafia, yet has vast power and reach. For example, the book suggests that in 2008, when the credit crunch struck Italy with surprising speed, it was to the cash-based organisation the Ndrangheta that the authorities turned for the liquidity required to keep the economy on an even keel.
There’s a playful quality to the form of this novel, as evolves from a police procedural into something of a spy novel when Blume joins an undercover agent as he penetrates the Calabrian heartland. This may well offend those crime and mystery purists who don’t believe in genre cross-fertilisation, but it works very well in context, particularly as Blume himself is very much a secretive, taciturn and self-possessed operator.
Exquisitely written in a quietly elegant style, and dotted with nuggets of coal-black humour, THE NAMESAKE is a bold blend of genre conventions that confirms Fitzgerald’s growing reputation as an author whose novels comfortably straddle the increasingly fine line between crime and literary fiction. - Declan Burke
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.