Judith Sullivan is a financial journalist who lives in Leeds but hails from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris.
This second instalment (in English) in the Corso Bramard series by Davide Longo is one of those books that shouldn’t work. But it does. Two days on from closing the last page in this short tome; Bramard’s Case remains lodged in the brain, and in a good way. Sparsely written, gloomy but populated with lively characters, this novel is a credit to Longo and translator Silvester Mazzarella.
It bends sub-genres, skips from fast-paced to chatty in a wink and Bramard is not your typical heavy drinking, world weary, cynical police officer - but he is all of those things, as well.
We meet Corso, who has dropped his career as a policeman to teach in a high school near Turin, as a ghost of sorts, a phantom wandering through his own life. His wife and daughter were murdered many years prior to these events and the tragedy forced him into hiding in plain sight. The assassin killed many others over the years, with just one escapee, a young woman now living in a monastery.
Bramard is recalled into active duty as a consultant on a case involving that very same murderer of this family. The killer has sent 12 typewritten letters to Bramard over the years. The arrival of missive number thirteen triggers the main Case plotline.
The killer makes his first major mistake with # 13, leaving a strand of hair in the posted envelope. Bramard and his old friend and colleague Arcadipane discover the slender hair links to a spider web of plot strands that swirl around the murder of Bramard’s child and spouse.
Added to the delicate nature of Bramard investigating a case so personal to him is the choice of his police officer partner Isa Mancini; for she is rude, stroppy and swears like she breathes. She is younger than Bramard, tech-savvy and one is led to believe attractive, aside from the effing and blinding.
The twosome divvy up their labour, rolling-up their sleeves to nail the elusive killer, and so the game begins.
The narrative structure has odd elements to it. For example, the exact nature of the butchery of the Bramard madre e figlia is not spelled out until page 51. The killer, whose identity the reader knows more of than Bramard, remains a cypher until the end. And yet, the book is self-contained, readable and distressing, with breath-taking bits of prose and funny contemporary asides, such as a reference to Stieg Larsson (so very different from Longo in style and content).
Two quibbles – Isa’s constant swearing and vulgarity was grating. Worse, it was not explained. We know from the beginning Bramard is bookish, but the coincidence of one of the books in his library (obscure to this reviewer) helping solve a riddle was just a bit too coincidental.
Overall, though, this is an intriguing addition to the Euro-Noir cannon and very Mediterranean. This novel could not have played out anywhere other than Italy. And this is true even though the book does not rely on any of the pasta-cooking, Mafia-ignoring or opera-living clichés it might have sunk to. Longo instead relies on topography, real sites and places and vividly drawn characters to make this book whole and worthy of a successor in English.
Translated by Silvester Mazzarella