Preview of River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi

Varesi I've recently finished reading River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi, translated from the Italian by Joseph Farell, and published in English by MacLehose Press on 9 September. I'll be submitting a review to Euro Crime, but in the meantime I would like to share the opening paragraphs of the novel, an opening that reminded me very much of the work of Charles Dickens – Great Expectations, perhaps, with the description of the marshes:


A steady downpour descended from the skies. The big lamp over the boatman's clubhouse, put there for the dredgers which navigate by memory, in the dark, could hardly be made out through the raindrops bouncing off the main embankment by the river.
"Foul weather", Vernizzi said.
"And no sign of a let-up", Torelli said, without raising his head.
The two had been sitting facing each other over a game of briscola which showed no sign of reaching a conclusion.
"How high has it risen?" Vernizzi said.
"Twenty centimetres in three hours, " said the other, keeping his eyes on the cards.
"By morning the waters will have covered the sandbank."
"And the current will be tugging at the moorings."
There were games at all four tables, but play was more desultory than usual since the rain and the rising river were distracting the boatmen. At intervals they could hear the groan of the capstan  at the nearby jetty as someone laboured to haul the hulls of boats out of the river. The continuous dripping of the rain, splashing gently, sounding like a man peeing against a wall, was an undertone. It was the fourth day of rain, falling at first with the fury of a summer storm and then with greater persistence. Now a kind of mist was descending and a breeze was gently ruffling the surface of the pools of water outside the clubhouse. Old Barigazzi appeared at the doorway, his hat and oilskin running with water. A draft of cold air swept across the room, and behind the bar Gianna shivered.
"Did you put your stakes in?" Vernizzi asked him.
Barigazzi nodded, hanging up his dripping outer garments.
"It's up another three centimetres", he announced as he moved over to the bar where Gianna had already filled a glass for him. "If it carries on at this rate, it'll be on the first of the floodplains during the night", he said in the tone of a man thinking out loud. No-one said a word. No-one ever took issue with Barigazzi, who knew the river like the back of his hand.


The river in question is the River Po. In the novel there is a map of the regions described, set around Parma. Here's a broader context:


Some early reviews of the novel are already available, at The Book Bag and a brief note by Declan Burke in The Irish Times.


5 thoughts on “Preview of River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi

  1. Maxine, I too have recently finished this book and sent a review
    in.It was very atmospheric and enjoyable,with the main character
    Commissario Soneri -showing scope for interesting development as the series

  2. I shall wait in anticipation for your review as this sounds like one i would like. Especially after Declan’s remark about Italian detectives and their stomachs. ;o)

  3. What a nice flavour this one has. Ominous, and it does indeed remind me of Our Mutual Friend (one of my all-time favourites).
    A Danish visitor to my blog just criticized a crime debut for its old-fashioned language. I had to tell him I could see no reason why middle-aged debutants should write in the same language and style as teenagers (though I said it more politely). For me, old-fashioned is not necessarily a deterrent.

  4. Maxine – Thanks for sharing this. It is an absorbing beginning, and I think your comparison to Dickens is quite apt. I’m eager to read your review of it!

  5. I think that the elements are the strongest part of the novel, which I enjoyed. I agree, Dorte, Our Mutual Friend is the other Dickens novel that the opening very much reminded me of. As for “old fashioned” language, if the person means “traditional, classical” I agree there is nothing wrong with that! In some of the older books, the language can seem somewhat dated and anacronistic these days (eg Dorothy Sayers) but that would apply to many old books, not crime fiction especially.
    Simon, I’ll check out Amazon to see if your review is there.

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