I have recently posted this review at Crimefictionlover.com as part of the New Talent November month of features. As this is a very strong contender for my book of the month I feel that the repetition is justified!
This is the intriguing debut from an author who is originally from the UK but now lives in Italy, where The Few is set. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary Giorgio Ganza with male prostitutes.
Scamarcio’s boss Garramone is a confidante of the country’s prime minister, and sends him to deal with the possible fallout, including the suspicious deaths of Ganza’s companions. As his investigation begins, a young American girl is spirited away from her parents on the beach in Elba, and Scamarcio finds himself drawn into her disappearance and possible links to his primary case. It turns out he has to call on his family’s mafia connections to navigate his way into the darkest currents of Italian society to uncover corruption and conspiracy.
Nicely sitting alongside the ranks of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Tobias Jones, Nadia Dalbuono has crafted an engaging thriller with a fascinating and likeable police protagonist. Scamarcio is a multi-layered man, who on more than one occasion fulfils others’ perception of him as a brilliant maverick. He is a composite of dedicated detective counterbalanced with the strong roots of his family in the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, and is not shy of using his former connections to get to the bottom of this sordid case. He is persistent, clear-thinking (despite his occasional use of marijuana), and perhaps, echoing my favourite line in the book, unafraid to engage in more physical methods of extracting information. “I’m a busy man- places to go, people to mutilate,” he says.
In terms of plot, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, so cleverly does Dalbuono weave the various strands of the story together, unveiling a few surprises along the way. Running parallel to the main investigations are a series of cutaways to another stream of consciousness where it’s not initially clear who’s speaking. As the book progresses these come into focus for an unsettling denouement, reinforcing how far the sexual deviance and violence of those in power has spread in Italy. I enjoyed the way that Dalbuono provided an insight into the Roma immigrant community as the story played out. The rum doings of various branches of the branches of organised crime are described with relish.
As the action pivots between Rome, Elba and Naples, the rendition of location and local knowledge shines through every scene. The sights, sounds and atmosphere of each setting will invade your senses. Particularly sentient were the scenes where Scarmacio, in the course of his investigation, is dispatched to a coastal fortress prison housing a sex offender dubbed The Priest. Only accessible by boat, Dalbuono totally captures the forbidding atmosphere of this sinister location, and the inherent sense of fear that each visit produces. Likewise, Rome and its inhabitants are ripe in detail, bringing to the fore the vibrant and well known sights of the city, and the scenes in the seeming idyll of Elba’s tourist community take on a whole character of their own.
It is a delight to encounter a protagonist who I would be keen to meet again, and given such a promising beginning to a potential series, I very much hope this will be the case in subsequent books. The Few is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking debut.
(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)