Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Rome, a television studio, and the Head of Drama is indulging in a tantrum before storming off to the bathroom and the solace of a line of cocaine. Mickey Proietti is a man under pressure; now on a high he considers his immediate options: to answer the calls from his mistress, swing by the office for a quickie with his secretary, or go straight home to pick up his wife and small son who are waiting to be driven to the beach. He opts for the last. So far so trite; it’s Rome but the glamour is tarnished and the potential victim too obvious for interest.
Then a BMW comes barrelling down the motorway on the wrong side of the road, side-swipes the Proiettis’ Mercedes and disappears. There are no serious injuries but the little boy‘s arm is broken and the episode ends ironically with Proietti kissing his wife’s hand as she enters the ambulance to take the child to hospital. Her husband stays behind to talk to the police.
The first cops on the scene are Traffic but after a short time Leone Scamarcio is involved. A homicide detective in the Flying Squad, Scamarcio is initially bewildered by the call but it transpires that the ambulance carrying Mrs Proietti and her son hasn’t arrived at any hospital and was never ordered. It’s disappeared. And the Good Samaritan who stopped to help at the crash site, who telephoned for it, has vanished. This was no random hit-and-run incident but a carefully planned abduction.
The child’s tooth is sent to the father but there are no demands. It would appear that the crime is less a matter of extortion than a warning, but of what, and from whom? Despite his concern for his son and his admission that he is hardly a popular celebrity, Proietti refuses to elaborate. So Scamarcio concentrates on the man’s associates: in show business, in politics, in the Mafia; all contacts and activities linked and tangled with women. We are introduced to a spider’s web of sex.
The Minister of Culture dies violently, ostensibly by his own hand. He was madly in love with Fiametta, a seductive showgirl who is Proietti’s current mistress. But Fiametta is conducting an affair with a footballer who is bisexual and a partner to the man who fired the Minister of Culture - whose widow is in a lesbian relationship. At one point Scamarcio confesses he is in “a febrile nightmare”. The reader knows how he feels.
Scamarcio has his own shaded background. The son of a Calabrian Godfather he finds himself in direct opposition to his father’s former general, a Mafioso now operating in Rome. But it’s the Mafia connection that is to guide him through a curious welter of plots and sub-plots involving drugs and women, pornography and high finance, and in the end it’s the Mafia that resolve the situation, messily but in character.
The Hit will make an acceptable drama in the modern idiom; construction is incomprehensible, while narrative and dialogue are dead words. It will come alive with familiar actors, with sound and body language, lighting and music. But for the blurb to compare Dalbuono with Donna Leon is risible. This reads as a working script. Leon writes finely tuned novels.