Inspector Lojacono may not see dead people, like Maurizio de Giovanni's Commissario Ricciardi, but Giuseppe Lojacono and his colleagues at the Pizzofalcone precinct are an unusual rag tag group of detectives nonetheless. Although Loja' made an appearance in a previous novel, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar) is the first outing of a new mystery series set in contemporary Naples. A Naples that is alive and atmospheric and almost lives and breathes in those pages. The crime is interesting, the setting mercurial, but the characters are 'characters' in every sense of the word.
This isn't just Lojacono's story, but he seems to be at the heart of things. Transferred from Sicily after a remarkable breaking of a case there, but there are rumors of ill deed that follow him. Sicily. Mafia. Lots of rumors. For Loja events include a broken marriage and an angry daughter. A family that had to be uprooted and moved due to those rumors, for their safety.
And now he has been nudged out and into one of Italy's dirtiest precincts. When he arrives in Naples it is uncertain whether the precinct will even remain open. It sits at the crossroads of the city's various social stratas. One of the oldest police districts in the city, small but strategic, and now soiled by the illegal activity that went on there by Lojacono's predecessors. Most of the men working there have been indicted on drug charges and now everyone attached is known as one of those "bastards" of Pizzofalcone. Brought in from various regions the new group of detectives must prove themselves and show their worth and necessity in order to remain open. I call them a rag-tag group because all of them have some oddity or quirk--they have been sent to Pizzofalcone because they don't quite fit in anywhere else.
Inspector Lojacono already has plenty of baggage when he arrives, but there is something unsettling about him. Preceded by cracking the Crocodile case, a whiff of connection with the Mafia, he is serious, a man of few words, perennially tense, his features are those of an Asian man, and indeed he does look Chinese, he becomes known as the "Chinaman". He doesn't realize how attractive he is, but the women he knows feel it. The waitress at the restaurant he eats regularly, and particularly the magistrate back home he is still in working contact with. There are all sorts of emotions and innuendo and secrets that circle just below the surface in this book that makes it in great part so very compelling.
Just about every character, every detective in Pizzofalcone has something he or she is trying to keep secret. The new Commissario heading the detectives, Luigi (Gigi) Palma is recently widowed and hiding an illness. Loja's partner, Aragona, watches far too many crime dramas on TV and thinks he has mastered the art of using his mirrored glasses in every conceivable situation--he wants to "be the detective", a real "Serpico". Loja' also fears for his life whenever Aragona takes the wheel of the car. If there is any truth to the mad, crazy driving in Italy, he exudes it. Francesco "Hulk" Romano has an anger issue and is quietly paying the price when his wife leaves him. And Alessandra Di Nardo is trying to be the son her father always wanted, but got a little girl instead. She is obviously fighting her own demons and has secrets that no one in the precinct must find out about.
Oh, and the crime? Yes, there is a crime at the heart of this story. The wife of a city official has been murdered. The couple are wealthy and part of the upper social strata of Naples Society. She is, was, devoted to her husband. But he is not quite so devoted to her, as while she was being murdered he was off on a little weekend away with his mistress. The crime? Murder. The weapon. a glass snow globe. One of many which she collects. The suspects? Her husband is at the top of the list, but maybe the murder has something to do with the lady who watches out her window across the way. Or her maid who is a refugee, or her husband, another 'foreigner'.
This is such a multilayered story. You keep peeling back layers like an onion. Each layer hiding, or revealing something new and surprising. I have found that when you pick up a book by Maurizio de Giovanni you get your money's worth. There is so much to his stories you feel like you are immersing yourself in a whole different world. This one is populated even more so by interesting characters with interesting lives. I especially enjoyed reading how they all relate to each other and their families and partners. There is so much beneath the surface. The mystery might have been resolved in this story, but so much of the characters' lives remains open ended. Meaning you can't wait to pick up the next book in the series.