This is the first English translation of this Italian crime fiction classic, which was first published in 1966. Indeed it's only the second of Scerbanenco's books to be translated into English, which seems odd considering, as is made clear in the informative introduction by Giuliana Pieri, he is regarded as something of a key figure in the genre, and has Italy's most prestigious crime fiction prize named after him.
The first in a series featuring Dr Duca Lamberti, It's an unusual, dark story, but underscored with shots of humour and some lovely writing. It is certainly noir, in that the streets of Metanopoli - a suburb of Milan - are portrayed as bleak and dangerous, and everyone has something to hide.
Scerbanenco dedicates a large part of the novel to exploring Duca's history and his relationship with Davide, the young man he is hired to mind. This results in Duca emerging as an interesting and well-realised character, albeit at the expense of the plot in the first third of the book. As with lots of noir thrillers, though, you can ignore this and just get lost in the writing. Duca is a promising noir hero: an investigator only by chance, a ton of baggage, and and a cynical outlook forged by his mistreatment at the hands of society when he only ever tried to do the right thing.
Scerbanenco's writing also shares with fellow noir authors a level of sexism and homophobia that will jar with modern readers, but that goes with the territory. I can't understand why Scerbanenco's work has not appeared in English before, I hope Hersilia Press will be able to bring us more.