Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review of Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli (Vintage, 2003, Italian 1997)


Simone spends his days in his room, pretending to be asleep every time his mother knocks on the door, the rest of the time scanning the airwaves of Bologna eavesdropping on CB radios, mobile phones, police and taxi frequencies, and internet chat played through a voice synthesiser, charting the social lives of its citizens.  Blind since birth he hears the world as colours and whilst turning the dial he picks up on a cold green voice that sends shivers up his spine.  It is the voice of a serial killer reeling in his next victim; a disturbed young man who listens to music constantly to drown out the bells ringing in his head.  Detective Inspector Grazia Negro works for the Unit for the Analysis of Series Crimes in Rome and she’s spotted a pattern in what seem like unconnected murders in Bologna.  On her first major case, with her blue voice, she needs to persuade the local authorities to take her analysis seriously, but more importantly she needs to catch the killer before he strikes again, and before he can track down the one person who can identify his voice.

I think Lucarelli is one hell of a writer.  He immediately plunges you into a story and he writes in a show don’t tell style that is pared back and yet full of insight (see my post on how it paints a short but effectively portrait of the city).  The story charts the interactions of the three principal characters, with Simone and the serial killer written in the first perspective.  The characterization is excellent, and there are some nice observational touches.  The plot is relatively straightforward and well structured.  My two gripes are the same as with the three previous Lucarelli novels I’ve read – there is not enough in the way of back story (the reader literally gets dropped into the characters’ lives for the week or so the story lasts but knows little else about them) and the story itself seems somewhat underdeveloped.  I’m not a fan of padding for the sake of it, but Lucarelli pares back the story to just about the bare minimum.  The result is the book feels like a TV episode as opposed to a full movie.  A very well written TV episode, but without the benefit of previous episodes to frame things for the reader.  The result is I’m left kind of conflicted – delighted with the writing yet somehow short-changed.  It makes me hungry for his other works, but worried that they’ll also give a high that doesn’t last long enough. 

3 comments:

Uriah Robinson said...

Lucarelli's other book in Grazia Negro series Day After Day does have a bit more meat on it. I think it is a better book but I read it a while ago.

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. It's always a balance, isn't it, between too much padding and not enough backstory...

Maxine said...

Great review, thanks! I loved the "getting on with it" bare bones aspect of the book, I have to say, but then I think I read it after a massive, padded doorstop of the latest Eliz George so that may be part of the reason.