When I was offered the opportunity to read this book for review and to participate in the official blog tour to celebrate its publication, I was thrilled. You see, the book cover claims that if you don't love it as much as Donna Leon, you can have your money back.
Now, I adore Venice: it is one of my soul places. Following our wonderful week on Dorsoduro in October 2007, it calls me back and I long to return. One of my dear blog-friends, Britt-Arnhild, suggested I might enjoy the books of Donna Leon and I have done so, ever since. I feel that, in her books, Venice is as much a character as the wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti, so that it is like visiting the place all over again.
So, I imagined reliving our 2011 week in Rome when reading The American, with my map and maybe guide book to hand, as well as revisiting my holiday snaps to illustrate this blog post.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by the concentration of so much antiquity in Rome. It is very beautiful and full of interest, so much to see and fat more than one can really see and absorb in a week.
I believe this to be the bridge where the first event in the story is discovered.
We took an open bus tour from beside the Terminale on our first day, to orientate ourselves to the city, so we saw a lot of places and sights. Most of our sightseeing was by bus and on foot, a struggle for me as I walk with two sticks and have balance problems in crowded places, but I pushed my limits and enjoyed seeing this beautiful city (and the Vatican City, of course: separate yet very much woven into the fabric of Rome itself).
Here are the very busy Spanish Steps, which are mentioned in passing when Detective Leone Scamarcio visits a cafe nearby for refreshment.
Also mentioned in passing is the Trevi Fountain, where it is hard to get a fountain for all the people around it.
Otherwise, my extensive photograph album is of little relevance to the story, and I think perhaps it is a disservice to compare Nadia Dalbuono's books to those of Donna Leon. Yes, both are about detectives working to solve crime in their own Italian cities, but otherwise they are quite, quite different in style, atmosphere and scope. Whereas Brunetti has a comfortable and happy family home life to sustain him, Scamarcio is much more of a loner. Both a pleasure to read, but divergent experiences.
The American reveals a maze of issues, from corruption in high places to caring for one's loved ones. Lovers of conspiracy theories (maybe fans of Dan Brown, for instance, but don't let that put you off if it threatens to do so) will find plenty to enjoy in this excellent book. The hard thing in reviewing a novel is not to spoil the surprises in the unfolding of the twists and turns of the plot, so I'll leave the tale for you to discover. I found this story shocking, haunting and highly credible, beautifully written with good character development and excellent pacing. There were subtle insights into contemporary Roman living, and of course one does not see one's home as visitors see it. We take for granted what is around us all the time. It did, however, make me feel I want to return and spend time in Trastevere, which we missed out on last time.
Do read The American, and watch out for more of Nadia Dalbuono's intelligent, engaging, entertaining and thrilling writing - I am now planning to read its prequel, The Few. The American is a cracking book.