Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli (Shane's book 21, 2008)

Back with serial killers again, this time in Italy, where the problems of the genre are no different. As I mentioned in my post about Vargas, the difficulty is over-familiarity. Carlo Lucarelli, author of the De Luca trilogy, wants to establish how shockingly brutal his killer is so he opens with two policemen discovering the latest victim. One slips and falls in the blood, screaming in horror when he can’t get up, while the other rushes outside, stricken with nausea. The scene is meant to give us pause: see how these policemen, inured to this kind of thing one would think, are revolted by this crime? The problem is that we are not so easily shocked. As readers, filmgoers and television viewers, we have more experience with this kind of thing than the characters. A novelist has to work hard to overcome our familiarity.

It can be done but Lucarelli doesn’t manage it here. His killer, ‘The Iguana’, is tormented by the constant ringing of bells and, in a bid to silence them, is killing students in Bologna and assuming their identities. The only ‘witness’ is Simone, a blind recluse who spends his time scanning police radios and mobile phone signals and one day hears the killer. Detective Inspector Grazia Negro, a rookie attached to a special unit tracking serial killers, needs Simone’s help to catch the killer before he strikes again.

Grazia also has to contend with the sexism of her colleagues, a point that Lucarelli labours somewhat and, given his unnecessarily thorough descriptions of her underwear, seems to struggle with a little himself. It’s hard to imagine Lucarelli writing about a male protagonist in the same way.

This book has been praised for it’s shifting narrative, which moves between the three main characters as the story unfolds. However, that’s not enough to rescue a disappointing plot, which even references The Silence of the Lambs, to which it is so obviously indebted.