Book review: "The Crocodile," by Maurizio De Giovanni


Beware the fury of a patient man
-- John Dryden

In the English language, there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for the parents who lose a child.
-- Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper


After Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, Italian author Maurizio De Giovanni introduces us to a contemporary figure - Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, a disgraced Sicilian cop who has been transferred to Naples as a punishment for his apparent dealings with the Mafia. His professional and personal life in tatters, Lojacono spends all of his time playing poker on his desktop computer, being kept away from any active investigations. With no personal life to speak of, he even resorts to taking over the night shifts from his colleagues. It is on one such occasion that he is called to visit a scene of a murder - a young boy murdered at his doorstep. The only clues (that Lojacono discovers) are a spent bullet casing, and a bunch of tissues, wet with human tears and skin flakes from the eyelids.

So begins the search of a killer the media is quick to dub - The Crocodile. The victim is revealed to have connections to the local drug gangs, and hence the general police consensus lies in the direction of a gang war, a Camorra hit. But Lojacono's instincts suggest otherwise, which leads him on a path of direct conflict with his superiors. The only person who is willing to entertain his theory is  Assistant District Attorney Laura Piras, a tough-as-nails lawyer with a past of her own.

The killer strikes again, twice - and in the same fashion. The victims are all young, the only child of a single parent. There does not seem to be any direct connection between them. As the city of Naples reels from the murder of three promising youngsters, the police race against the clock to ensure that the killer does not strike again. The story flows through multiple perspectives as the stakes get higher (and more terrifying) by every passing day. Events culminate in a gut-wrenching climax, one of the most hard-hitting that I have read in recent times. Giovanni seems to drive home the point that "happily ever after" does not exist, even in fiction, and that we live in a world that can sometimes be darker than the darkest, most hidden corner of our hearts; where justice is blind but not inert, and vengeance is ever alert to seek itself out of the shadows.

Giovanni is in top-form, as usual. Not bound by the limitations of a period setting like the Ricciardi series, Giovanni pens a gripping thriller in the contemporary vernacular -- allowing a freer usage of modern idioms, gestures, and settings through Naples. Antony Shugaar provides a masterful translation that keeps the reader engaged from the first page to the last. It should come as no surprise (post-reading) that this novel was the winner of the 2012 Scerbanenco prize for the Best Crime Novel.

Highly recommended.
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