Book Review: Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli

Lucarelli Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli, translated from the Italian by Oonagh Strasky

First published in Italy, 1997; first published in translation in the UK, 2003 (Harvill Press/Vintage)

When you’ve just finished reading a 700-page large-format novel, the perfect antidote is a 169-page pocket paperback. Upon recommendation by Norman of Crime Scraps, I therefore embarked on Almost Blue, with the added incentive that it features a female detective – a rare breed in translated Italian crime fiction.

Almost Blue is told from the perspective of three characters. One is a young blind man, Simone, who spends his time alone in his room full of scanners, listening to snatches of conversation across the city of Bologna. Ispettore Grazia Negro is the only woman member of the Unit for the Analysis of Serial Crimes, an Italian equivalent to that staple of crime fiction, the FBI unit VICAP. Grazia and her boss Vittorio are trying to persuade the Questora (police) and judiciary that several murders committed over a period of years are the work of one person, and hence gain their cooperation in their investigation. The third viewpoint is that of a person who suffers intolerably from hearing imaginary bells, hence wears headphones to block out their deafening sound – and who, we come to realise, has many other bizarrely disgusting personal habits.

Grazia is a competent detective who has put together a convincing case that the murders are connected, her breakthrough coming when she realised the precise and strange signature to each slaying. The judge prefers not to believe her, though, mostly because he doesn’t want the population to panic or to assign resources to tracking down the perpetrator. Grazia and two colleagues are therefore left on their own, as Vittorio returns to Rome on unexplained other business.

Much as I wanted to like Grazia, I found it a bit hard at first. She seems more concerned about her period pains than in presenting her serial-killer case, and she is passive about the awful sexism all around her – every male policeman treats her as if she’s a sex object, and her boss persists in constantly calling her “bambina” which is very irritating to read, never mind being actually called. However, once Vittorio has decamped to HQ in Rome and Grazia can pursue her investigation pretty much on her own, she becomes much more likeable as she unearths one witness who can, she thinks, help her identify the killer before he (?) strikes again. Without wishing to give anything away, her character develops in interesting ways during the story to the extent that I was rooting for her by the end.

I really liked this book. Although it’s a violent story, the author has a brisk style so that the reader is not treated with kid gloves nor unnecessarily made to dwell on visceral gore (a book of this length leaves little room for long, descriptive passages). The plot is exciting, and the style of telling the story through the eyes of three characters provides an edgy, unnerving perspective which works very well indeed. I am not surprised that the book received such ecstatic reviews (from the various cover quotes) or that it was shortlisted for the CWA dagger. I shall definitely be reading more by this author.


I thank Kathy and Norman for pointing me to this book: Kathy by asking in a comment to this post whether there are any female Italian detectives yet translated into English; and Norman for providing the answer!

Norman has reviewed Almost Blue and its sequel, Day After Day, at his blog Crime Scraps.

The Complete Review – review of Almost Blue and links to other reviews of it, including two in English at The Telegraph and The Times (both grade the book A).

Other reviews of the novel are at Reviewing the Evidence and Fleur Fisher reads (a typically individual and interesting review).

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli

  1. Maxine, thanks for the links. I just about preferred Day after Day even though it is yet another serial killer book.

  2. Maxine – Thanks for this review. It does sound really intriguing, and I like the way that you bring up the sleuth’s development over the course of a book; I like it when authors do that. My only question is: why do you insist on adding to my already-overswelled TBR list!!??? ; )

  3. And why do we keep reading Maxine´s reviews, Margot? We must be weak! LOL
    I agree that sexism is annoying to read about, but I think some women are surrounded by it to such a degree that they fail to notice after some time – or they just know it is hopeless to stop it. I have never met it among my colleagues, but once in a blue moon a student says stupid things e.g. about women and technology, and my problem is that it happens so rarely that words fail me. I would never let a student get away with it more than once, though.

  4. Thanks so much for posting a review of this book, which contains an Italian woman detective. Will try to track this down. I enjoy the frankness of this review, as always.

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