Noir fiction has certainly come a very long way since the days of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Back in Noir’s heyday, most of it centered around the exploits of private eyes (not in all cases though, as evidenced by the works by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain). Italy has seen an explosion of Noir fiction over the past decade or more and there are many authors who have become international phenomenons due to their innovative work. Rome Noir is part of a Noir fiction series published by New York’s Akashic Books which gathers writers from all across the globe to contribute stories set in their particular city. Rome Noir is nothing short of astonishing, not only due to the immense talent contained within but also because of the new places these authors have taken the genre.
Each story in this anthology is set in a particular section of Rome. All of them have a “crime” element to them but interestingly not in the traditional sense. These authors seem to come more from a Jim Thompson/James M. Cain mold, where the stories revolve around a crime but the emphasis is more on the social aspects of Italian society. Many of these stories are simply literary fiction with a dark edge to them and wouldn’t be easy to simply classify them as “crime fiction” as we Americans have come to know it.
For instance, there is the book’s opening story Pasolini’s Shadow by Nicoletta Vallorani which follows a protagonist who may or may not be Pasolini himself, who suffers the exact same fate at the exact same spot where the poet/novelist/filmmaker met his demise. Although there is a “crime” in the story (the severe beating of the protagonist), the tale reads more like a commentary on the dark side of contemporary Roman society. Brilliantly written and possibly my favorite in the collection. Eternal Rome by Antonio Scurati is also a gem - a genre bending story that crosses crime, science fiction and thriller boundaries effortlessly. Another favorite is Tiburtina Noir Blues by Francesca Mazzucato - a simply astonishing story set in a Roman train station that has a brilliant twist at the end of the story that the reader will not see coming. Other authors include Tommaso Pincio, Cristiana Danila Formetta, Diego De Silva, Enrico Franceschini, Marcello Fois, Gianrico Carofiglio, Carlo Lucarelli, Maxim Jakubowski, Evelina Santangelo, Antonio Pascale, Boosta, Giuseppe Genna, and Nicola Lagioia. All of them talented writers in their own right. Not a bad story in the collection.
Many of these authors aren’t translated into English and most of them here have been translated for the first time. Some others have many of their works available and I’ve read some of them in the past. There are others, of course, who didn’t make this collection, however hopefully one day Akashic will publish another volume which will include them. What I love about Italian Noir fiction is where these authors have taken the genre, expanding it way beyond the usual cliches and taking narrative chances by crossing literary boundaries that make many, if not all these stories reach well beyond mere “genre fiction”. This is an amazing collection and one that I can’t recommend highly enough.