Italian crime fiction has been gaining a higher profile in the English-reading world in the last five years, and this anthology (originally published in Italy in 2005) showcases all the big names (except Giancarlo Carofiglio), plus a few who've yet to previously appear in English. In his introduction, editor and contributor Giancarlo De Cataldo identifies three themes that unite the nine stories: corruption (financial and moral), foreigners (recent waves of immigrants), and obsession with success and fame. The first of these is rather obvious -- pretty much all crime fiction involves moral corruption. The second theme is rather more interesting and distinctive, although the stories here tend to incorporate immigrants from elsewhere in Europe, and not the African or Middle Eastern immigrant population. The third theme is also somewhat unusual, as these stories feature more entertainers, politicians, and glory-seekers than the average crime anthology.
The first story, Niccolo Ammaniti (known outside Italy primarily for the novel I'm Not Scared and its film adaptation) and Antonio Manzini's "You Are My Treasure Chest," is a good example. It features a coke-addled, panic-striken plastic surgeon to the stars who, in the midst of a boob job, hides his baggie of cocaine inside the starlet he's operating on. This outsized premise is the catalyst for several years of misadventures in which he attempts to retrieve this "nest egg." It's kind of a goofy, ridiculous story, but colorful enough to engage readers open to that kind of crime story. Sandrone Dazieri's "The Last Gag" and Giorgio Faletti's "The Guest of Honor" also revolve around the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In the former, a former TV comedian comes to realize his former partner was murdered, and inadvertently solves the case. The latter features a tabloid journalist who thinks he's hit paydirt by locating a long-missing TV star -- however following this story also means tangling with the devil...
Most of the other stories are more conventional, such as the second, Carlo Lucarelli's (whose post-WWII De Luca trilogy is well worth seeking out) "The Third Shot." The only story to feature a female lead, it revolves around a policewoman who suspects a well-known fellow officer of lying about an armed confrontation with two Albanian thieves, and the fallout her suspicion engenders. Another cop-centric story is Massimo Carlotto's "Death of an Informer," which pits a tenacious cop against a ring of Croat soldiers turned drug smugglers. Probably the most old-fashioned story is Marcello Fois' brief "What's Missing," in which a nice old lady is killed and a police detective must sift through a few clues to identify the killer and his motive.
The other three stories are somewhat more personal. The title of Andrea Camilleri's (author of the long-running Inspector Montalbano series) "A Series of Misunderstandings" is perfectly apt, as an unlikely couple falls in love and when she is killed, he must struggle to clear his name and find her true killers. In Deigo De Silva's "Theresa's Lair," an aging beauty is held captive by a young anticapitalist activist on the run from the cops, with tragic results. And Giancarlo De Cataldo's "The Boy Who Was Kidnapped by the Christmas Fairy" is about a desperate and amoral man who stags the kidnapping of his girlfriend's son in order to use the ransom money to pay off his gambling debts. However, the involvement of a hooker and a Lithuanian drifter complicate matters in what ends up becoming a rather heartwarming tale.
The anthology is more successful than most due to the range of stories, as well as their relative length. The mix of comical, cop, and citizen stories makes for nice changes of pace within the book, and with one exception, the stories are 25-40 pages long, allowing for plenty of room for character and plot development. This is both a great introduction to modern Italian crime fiction, and a solid crime anthology in its own right.