22 December 2013

Book Review: A Private Venus

Title: A Private Venus
The First Duca Lamberti Noir
(Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis)

Author: Giorgio Scerbanenco

Publisher: Hersilia Press

Format: Proof Copy, 284 pages

Genre: Crime fiction

Source: Publisher

A Private Venus is a compelling mystery set in Milan, Italy in 1966. The protagonist is Dr Duca Lamberti, a medical doctor. He has just been released from prison after serving three years for the mercy killing of one of his patients. Thus, he can no longer practice medicine and will have to take a job selling pharmaceuticals but a completely different job is unexpectedly offered to him.

A wealthy man named Pietro Auseri wants Duca to act as a guardian to his young alcoholic son, Davide, and to get him to stop drinking. Duca accepts the unusual job but soon discovers that Davide is deeply depressed and suicidal which worries Duca since he can’t afford further trouble with the law. He must get Davide to stop drinking as soon as possible but first he has to discover why he is so depressed.

Duca learns that Davide’s depression is due to a chance meeting he had a year ago, when he met a young prostitute named Alberta Radelli. She begged Davide to take him away for three months but he refused so when her suicide was reported, Davide became consumed by guilt. He also feels tormented by two objects she left in his car. When Duca sees them, he immediately realizes there is something strange going on and decides to find out more about Alberta Radelli and the circumstances surrounding her suicide.

As the doctor turns detective and learns more details, he follows a trail of clues that lead to a corrupt world of prostitution, pornography, and murder. The tension builds as the story turns into an intriguing mystery with Duca using his keen observation skills to piece together clues and pursue the criminals.

This is a very atmospheric novel with a strong sense of time and place, a tightly-crafted plot and terse, snappy dialogue. Duca is an extremely likeable character, with a cynical attitude but a strong desire for justice. And even though it’s a very dark, gritty story, it’s interspersed with Duca’s witty thoughts such as his amusing nicknames for people like ‘the little emperor’ and ‘Little Miss General Topics’. These touches of humour help to break the unbearable tension that ultimately leads to the exciting, nail-biting conclusion.

The author makes every word count.and his unique voice immediately grabs the reader. If you like crime fiction, you will definitely want to read A Private Venus with its intricate plot and a doctor turned private detective. Simply stunning.

A Private Venus is the first of the Duca Lamberti series and is considered an Italian noir classic but has only recently been translated into English.

The author, Giorgio Scerbanenco, is considered to be the father of Italian noir. Indeed, the top crime fiction award, the ‘Premio Scerbanenco', is named in his honour.

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