Tag Archives: crime fiction

Along The River Po…with Commissario Soneri

I’m reading River of Shadows at the moment. It’s the first book in Valerio Varesi’s detective series featuring Commissario Soneri. River of Shadows was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA International Dagger. Apart from the main human protagonists in the story, Varesi’s descriptions of the River Po and the surrounding landscape seem to give the location a life and character all of its own. Since my Italian roots are in the region of Emilia-Romagna and Parma in particular, this is a part of the world that I feel a strong connection with. Let me introduce you…


The Po river flows more than 400 miles through northern Italy, from its source on a rocky hillside in the Cottian Alps all the way to the Adriatic Sea not far from Venice. Il grande fiume (the great river) is prone to heavy flooding and, in an attempt to protect the surrounding fields and towns, over half of the river is flanked by man-made embankments or argini. Poplar trees have also been planted along the banks to strengthen them against the force of the water. This may work to some extent but the down-side of these flood defences has been that when the Po floods, it does so even more ferociously and with devastating effect.


The Po in flood is the backdrop to a mysterious disappearance in River of Shadows. The leading character, Commissario Soneri, is a detective based in Parma who is bought in to investigate when an old boatman goes missing from his barge on the river. Varesi’s writing is full of brooding storminess and conjures up the image of perpetual rain, mist and swirling currents. The power and menace of the river as it threatens the lives and livelihoods along its banks is painted beautifully as is the seeming contradiction of the serene timelessness of the river.


There’s a strange symbiosis that exists between the people and the Po. The river has caused destruction for centuries and yet the people who live within its reach rely on it for the success of their vineyards, rice fields, and fisheries. The benefits, though, are heavily one sided. They say that a third of Italy’s agricultural exports come from the area around the Po. Livestock drink its water and the sugar, rice and tomato crops rely on irrigation for a good harvest. Even the area’s power comes from the Po via the hydroelectric plants. No wonder the people of the Po cling to their homes so tenaciously in the face of floods that so often threaten to snatch it all away. They know that while the river takes with one hand, it gives very generously with the other.

This is the way it’s been for as long as anyone can remember. The seasonal dance with the river and its advancing and retreating water. They say changing climate patterns have made things harder but change is a way of life along the Po and things will just adapt and move on as they have done for centuries. The people have taken on the character of the Po itself – always changing but always the same.


Photo credits: turinphototours.it , Giuliano Chezzi, AsgeirFoto and Francesco Zaia


My amoreggiamento with Italian crime fiction…

I write crime fiction. More specifically, I write crime fiction set in Italy and my detective, Milo Peretti, lives and works in Rome. But why? How did I get here? And what makes me write the things I do?

Coming from an Italian background, I suppose choosing Italy as the backdrop isn’t too much of a surprise. I’ve always been very conscious and proud of my family’s roots so it seemed only natural to write about a place that means a lot to me. But why crime? And why Rome? There are plenty of genres other than crime and plenty of other cities besides Rome.

As a boy, I read mainly historical fiction and fantasy. (I genuinely have no idea how many times I read The Chronicles of Narnia.) The closest I ever got to crime fiction was reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. Then as a teenager, I discovered my Grandad’s Sherlock Holmes collection and was was hooked. I couldn’t get enough mystery and intrigue and raided my local library for more. I read everything. From Ted Dekker, Frederick Forsyth, Sam Bourne and Vince Flynn to Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly. And so, I guess, when I started to write, I wanted to write the same sort of story as the ones I love to read.

But why Rome? After all, my family originally came from Parma in Emilia-Romagna to the north of Italy. Why not set the story there? Here’s the answer…


Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. And not even the books. It was the BBC’s TV series that made me fall in love with Rome as the setting for a detective story. There was something about the characters played by Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino. An air of suave Mediterranean sophistication that most of the fictional detectives I’d come across didn’t have. Unsure why I hadn’t done it before, I devoured books by the Anglo-Italian authors – Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon, Christobel Kent; and the Italian – Andrea Camilleri, Valerio Varesi, Gianrico Carofiglio. And so I discovered a passion for giallo (Italian crime fiction) and, not long afterwards, Milo Peretti came along.

But, enough about me… What makes you read/write the things you do?

Blood Will Tell… download for FREE!

Finally… My novella/short story, Blood Will Tell is available for FREE download from Kobo and Smashwords! It’s also listed on Amazon (although not free for Kindle – yet!).

Blood Will Tell is the prequel to the Milo Peretti mystery series which tells the story of Rome’s newest private detective. The first full novel is due out in 2014.

In the meantime, here’s the link for you to download Blood Will Tell for FREE:

DOWNLOAD FROM SMASHWORDS (All e-reader formats available – including Kindle, Kobo and Nook!)

and here’s the link for Amazon:


Blood Will Tell

The One That Got Away – Flash fiction

So…here’s The One That Got Away

This is my offering for this weeks Blog Hop flash fiction challenge (see Leanne Sype’s original post – http://leannesype.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/blog-hop-photo-reveal-19/

The 5 must-use words were butter, evil, wardrobe, rescue, ballroom. Here’s the picture courtesy of Flikr Commons:

The One That Got Away

‘You be a good girl while I’m gone won’t you, poppet?’
He stroked her cheek with his nasty fingers and she fought the urge to recoil from his touch. If her hands were free, she would have scrubbed at her skin to get rid of the lingering vileness but the ropes held her wrists tightly. Instead she held her breath to block out the smell of his foulness and nodded.
A grin split his face, hideous teeth jutting out like sunken tombstones.
‘That’s right. See, it’s better when we love each other isn’t it?’
His hot breath smelt of stale whiskey and decay. She wanted to be sick but forced herself to smile sweetly into his twisted evil face instead. As if butter wouldn’t melt, her mum always said. Mum. The thought made her throat close up. No. She mustn’t cry. Not in front of him. Not ever.
‘I’ll try not to be away too long, poppet. You’ll be good won’t you?’
She nodded. Anything to get him out of the house. Anything to give her time.
As soon as the  key turned in the lock she started on the knot again. Wriggling, twisting, picking. One free hand; that’s all she needed. Come on. COME ON!
She wrestled with the rope until she was drenched with sweat and on the verge of giving up in despair. Just as she abandoned all hope of escape, she felt the knot give. Not daring to breathe, she made her hand as small as possible and pulled. Inch by inch her hand slipped between the coils until the rope released its hold.
With trembling fingers, she worked to free her other hand. Within a moment or two, she was on her feet and rubbing her wrists to get the feeling back.
She tried the door and window. Both locked. She was still a prisoner inside four bleak walls.
The room was empty apart from the bed, a chair and an old wardrobe. She ran to it and flung open the doors. Empty. Of course it was. He had taken everything. Her clothes. Her shoes. She was never meant to leave so why would she need them again? She looked down at the ancient nightdress he had made her wear. She hated it like she hated him. But better freedom like this than no freedom at all.
Grabbing the chair, she swung at the window. A crack jittered across the glass but the chair bounced back into the room. Strong with desperation she swang again. This time there was a crash and the pane shattered.
Clambering out onto the ledge, a shard of glass caught her leg and drew blood. She ignored it and kept going. A drainpipe ran down the wall an armslength away. She made a wild grab for it and half fell, half slid to the ground.
Trees reached for her with their gnarled branches she ran blindly along the path like Cinderella from the ballroom. Somewhere behind her a twig snapped.

Contains Strychnine – a flash fiction story

‘Right… This is my offering for the Writer Wednesday Blog Hop. Thanks to Leanne Sype for recommending :-)! See Leanne’s blog for more info… http://leannesype.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/blog-hop-photo-reveal-18/

Hope you all enjoy it!


Contains Strychnine

The librarian peered at me over the top of her reading glasses.
‘And what would you be wanting a book about something like that for, young man?’
The fluttering in my belly started again. Maybe she knew. No, that was silly. How could she know? How could she possibly know?
The old woman was still waiting for an answer. And smiling. It was a grandmother kind of smile. At least I think it was. I’d only ever seen photos of mine so I couldn’t be sure.
The librarian waved her hand in front of my eyes and laughed.
‘Sorry. What?’
‘The book. What do you want it for?’
I shrugged and tried to look casual.
‘Just a school project. It’s for chemistry.’
She nodded.
‘OK. I think I can help you. Let’s see what we can find.’
We wandered down the aisles between walls of books. The librarian read the signs under her breath until we reached Science. She stopped and pointed to the fifth shelf.
‘No wonder you couldn’t see them. We keep them out of the reach of inquisitive schoolboys.’
She winked. That made me feel even worse about lying to her.
‘Now, what exactly are you looking for? We’ve got an A to Z of Poisonous Plants, How to Rid your Garden of Rats, Moles and Other Pests, or The Encyclopedia of Toxicology.’
I chose the encyclopedia.
‘It’s an adult book so you won’t be able to take it home, you know.’
I nodded. I didn’t bother telling her I’d never be going home anyway.
She left me to it and I lugged the book to a desk. I flicked through the pages until I reached S. Sarin. Sodium cyanide.
Strychnine. That’s what the box of pesticide said. Contains Strychnine.
I read the list of symptoms. Muscle spasms. Convulsions. I learned that death came eventually either from asphyxiation, whatever that was, or exhaustion from the convulsions. The end would come about two or three hours after exposure to the toxin.
My skin turned ice-cold and I shivered. Two or three hours? I thought it was supposed to be quick. A chill whispered down my neck as I realized. I didn’t care about him but I’d never meant to hurt her. I was protecting her. From him. From what he would have done.
I’d seen it in his eyes. She thought he was The One. After Dad left she thought that about them all. But this one took her out. Fancy meals. Concerts. Hotels. that sort of thing. But I saw through it and he knew. He hated me because I knew what he was. A monster.
My stomach felt like a giant was squeezing it in his fist. I imagined Mum’s face. Serving the food I made them before I left. Dabbing her mouth with a napkin. ‘Like a proper lady’ she’d say. Then, as the poison started to work, writhing and screaming.
I wanted to puke. I grabbed my bag and ran.

Yellow Summer Dress – FLASH FICTION

It was her.
He didn’t need to wait for the dental records or DNA testing. He knew.
He turned away from the white suits of the forensics team and pulled the dog-eared photograph out of his jacket pocket for the millionth time. The girl in the yellow summer dress. With ice-cream on the end of her nose and a smile that put dimples in her cheeks and made him want to smile too. But not today. Today he couldn’t shift that awful feeling of tightness in his throat.
Two-hundred and thirty-six days had been and gone since she disappeared and only a few dozen less had passed since the search had been scaled down. Officially at least. In his mind, though, it had never really stopped. How could it? He had promised the mother he’d bring her little girl home. Perhaps it was small town naiveté but he had never allowed himself to imagine it ending like this. Never lose hope. That’s what he’d told her. And now he would have to snuff out what little she had left.
He wished more than anything else that there was someone else who could tell her but he knew it had to come from him. She deserved that much at least. He slipped the photograph back into his pocket and headed blindly through the trees in the direction of the road.
The officers at the entrance to the woods gave him sympathetic glances as he passed but he ignored them. It was nothing new. He’d been the crazy detective for a while. He’d heard the whispers. He should never have been involved. It was too close to home. It had pushed him over the edge. Sometimes they made him feel like a pariah. Most of the time he didn’t care.
He reached the car and slid behind the wheel. His fingers fumbled with the keys as he tried to start the engine and he punched the dashboard in anger. He had to get away from there. To clear his head. To drive until he could think again. The key finally turned in the ignition and the tires spat gravel as he put his foot to the floor and shot out onto the road.
By the time he realised which way he was driving, he couldn’t have stopped if he wanted to. The car knew the way too well. He pulled into the car park and found his usual space sitting empty. Winding down his window, he filled his lungs with the fresh air and the smell of spring blossom.
He watched as two small children played in the sunshine and the sound of their laughter floated to him on the breeze. Closing his eyes, he let himself imagine it was her. That it had all been nothing more than a bad dream and that when he opened his eyes she would be there. Waiting patiently on the swing as if she’d been there all along.
But, when he looked, the park was empty and the children were running off ahead of their parents in the direction of the ice-cream van. He pulled the photograph out of his pocket again and gazed into those clear blue eyes. His vision blurred until he couldn’t make out her features anymore and her golden hair looked like a halo. A tear fell onto her face but he brushed it away with a gentle finger.
‘I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry.’
Then pulling his phone out of his pocket he scrolled through the numbers with unsteady fingers. Until he found the name he’d been looking for. The screen waited for his response to a question he never wanted to answer. Call Home?

Heads or Tails – FLASH FICTION

Look at them all. So engrossed in their own stupid little worlds that they don’t even bother to look up as the carriage doors open. I crane my neck as I walk the aisle looking for a seat but the train is packed with commuters and I end up standing in the corner. But that suits me fine. At least that way I can keep an eye on them all.

They’re pathetic, that’s what they are. Every last stinking one of them. I can hardly stand being so close to the vermin but sometimes when a hunter stalks his prey he must crawl on his hands and knees through the same dirt as the beasts. Breathing in their polluted air is a necessary evil. An occupational hazard.

The old coin is hidden safely in my pocket but I have an urge to hold it just to be sure. I turn it over and over between my fingers and feel the reassuring firmness of the metal. The smooth contours of the shapes minted onto the two sides. Heads and tails. There are only ever those two options. I like that. It keeps things simple. White or black. Stay or go. Live or die.

Which reminds me why I’m here on the subway breathing in the stench of sweat and the carcasses of broken dreams. The tragedy of unfulfilled middle-class aspirations. How my heart bleeds for them! Poor little lambs. Yes, that’s what they are. Lambs going to the slaughter. One by one. It might make them re-evaluate. Death does that. Especially when it’s your own.

So, who’s it going to be, my little lambs? Just one of you this time. That’s all I need. One by one. I feel like a shepherd picking out the fattest, juiciest lamb for the trip to the abattoir. The coin twirls around my fingers as I scan the faces. Heads or tails?

They don’t know me. None of them do. They look through me as if I’m a ghost. As if I’m not even there. They just go right on reading their newspapers. Rags with big angry headlines and filled with petty nonsense. Oh yes, they’re definitely sheep. Blindly following the leader. Or whoever has the bell which tinkles the loudest. Mindlessly swallowing whatever’s in front of them.

The more I watch them, the more I’m convinced. They all deserve to die. That’s the best way to deal with disease-ridden livestock. Wholesale slaughter. And then torching the bodies. But, no, I can’t kill them all. That’s not how things work. There has to be some sort of order. So I’ll take them one by one.

And now I have to make my selection. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. How about that teenage boy with his headphones on? I can hear the music filling his ears. It sounds angry and I don’t like it. I can feel it making me angry too but I musn’t let that happen. I have an important decision to make and I need to stay calm.

Maybe the coin will help. I take it out of my pocket and toss it. Up and down. Up and down. That woman with the children is watching now. Her mouth smiles at me but somehow her eyes stay the same. Like she’s worried about something. She takes her children by the hands and pulls them close. I grip the coin more tightly and look away.

That’s when I see him. Shirt and tie. Talking loudly to some unseen friend about a business deal or some nonsense. I toss the coin again. Up and down. Up and down. He doesn’t even notice.

I start off across the carriage towards him but the train lurches and I have to brace myself to keep from pitching headfirst. I’m standing in front of him now. My arm hooks around a pole to anchor myself in place and I hold out the coin.

‘Heads or tails?’

He glances up and then goes back to staring at the screen of his laptop.

‘I asked you a question.’

He folds his arms and stares at me.

‘What do you want?’

‘Heads or tails?’

‘Look, I’ve not got time for this…’


He sighs.

‘Fine. Heads.’

I smile.

‘Let’s discover your fate.’

He seems strangely lost for words so I carry on regardless. The self-confidence  leaves his eyes as we watch the coin fly up from my fingers. It spins in front of our faces and time slows down as if in sympathy. The noise of a dozen conversations in the carriage behind me fades away and all I can hear is the sound of my own heartbeat. Thub dub. Thub dub. Like the gentle rhythm of the second hand on a clock.

The coin reaches the topmost point of its arc and begins to fall back down toward my waiting hand. It nestles in my palm and with one swift movement I turn it over in preparation for the moment of reckoning.

Now, at last, I have his attention. Everything else is forgotten as his eyes fix upon my hands and I feel a smile spread across my lips. This is it. Heads or tails. Life or death. His very existence decided by the toss of a coin. I lift my hand and look for the answer.

Tails. You lose. Everything.

He looks at me with confusion in his eyes. And as I reach behind my back and my hand grasps the knife, I can smell his fear. But maybe that’s how we all die in the end. Leaping blindly into the unknown. Alone and afraid.

And for a second, I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.