“A serial killer is terrorising the students of Bologna. Rookie female detective Grazia Negro is determined to solve the case. Only one eye witness can positively identify the killer …and he’s blind. Simone spends his days in solitude, listening to Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” and scanning the radio wave of the city to eavesdrop on other people’s lives. He likes to imagine what people are like – based on the tone and “colour” of their voice – and his acute hearing sets alarm bells ringing upon hearing the voice of the killer.”
It’s not my habit to begin review type posts with a synopsis, but in this case I wanted to explain just what drew me to the book.
First it was the title. I thought of the song and I was pleased to discover that there was a connection. The synopsis looked interesting and the mention of a CWA Golden Dagger nomination seemed like a good sign. And when I turned to a page at random I found a lovely passage about Simone’s response to Chet Baker’s music. So I dismissed my reservations about the word “noir” and brought the book home from the library.
When I turned to the first page I wondered if I had made a mistake. What I read was a short acount of the visceral recation of two police officers to a crime scene. It wasn’t graphic but there were strong insinuations of unspeakable horror. I thought about throwing in the towel, but I decided I should give the author the benefit of the doubt and at least read a little further.
As the story progresses three strands develop:
Simone is blind. He is isolated from the world, living alone on the top floor of his mother’s house. He spends his days playing records that he loves devotedly and listening to a radio scanner that picks up the voices of people all across the city. Listening to the people of Bologna inhabitants, and imagining their lives from what he hears. One day, though he hears the voice of the murderer.
This strand is excellent. Simone is a wonderful creation and his world and his inner life are so well evoked, and utterly believable.
Then there is the strand following the police investigation and the strand following the killer. Both are competently executed, but the former lacks depth and the latter lacks originality.
The darkness of the city streets is palpable as the story progresses and escalates towards a dramatic conclusion.
Almost Blue is by no means a bad book, and Carlo Lucarelli is by no means a bad writer, but nothing else hits the same heights as the story’s central character.
Simone is staying with me, but the rest of the book is already fading.
Translated by Oonagh Stransky