Review: Black Run (Rocco Schiavone 01) by Antonio Manzini

I got this one courtesy of Heidenkind/Tasha – thank you my dear! You rock!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The dark flanks of the Alps tower over everything. Wind whistles through the fir trees. An expanse of ice and snow with no end in sight. A growing stain. A mess of flesh and blood. A corpse buried six inches under the snow.

Enter Rocco Schiavone, Deputy Police Chief and a man who has more beautiful women in his bed than sensible shoes under it. He’s stuck in this backwards Alpine town after getting on the wrong side of the wrong people and longs for the fritto misto, cobbled streets and lucky breaks of his beloved Rome. He hates this place and the provincial locals almost as much as his superiors for their petty rules and for exiling him here. On top of that, he’s got a body to deal with and this mangled corpse is “a pain in the ass, number 10 on the scale, summa cum laude”…

There is blood on the black run and nothing to identify the victim but a tattoo of Luisa Pec, owner of a bar popular with the locals and a pair of blue eyes popular with Rocco. Was it a crime of passion? Or of jealousy? And how are the mafia involved? Rocco Schivone is on the case, the first in a sensational new crime series

My impressions:

Is it possible not to like a novel set in Champoluc, Val d’Aosta, in the middle of very scenic Italian Alps, featuring a grumpy but handsome Italian detective freshly transferred from Rome to be punished and solve some crime? Not really, right? And yet…

Still let’s start with some positives. Rocco Schiavone is a great character. He can be your best friend or your worst enemy but he is certainly an interesting creature to read about. Sent to the province from his beloved Rome he is surly, grumpy and he has a quirk: when he meets new people, he sums them up in his head and allocates them an equivalent, often rare, in the animal world. As a child he loved a certain encyclopedia with drawings of animals too much for his own good and it seems it stayed with him. Overall his social life is not an easy one: while in the mountains he swiftly acquires a mistress that fact doesn’t make him immune to charms of other Alpine beauties. He has also a wife, Marina, with himself but their relationship seems even more blurred and craggy than the skyline of Aosta and no, nothing will be properly explained because it is the first part of a series and the author is on a roll.  What’s more? Rocco, like your average real-life police officer, is not averse to breaking the law himself; at some point he teams up with his old mate Sebastiano, who has a tip-off concerning a lorry smuggling drugs from Rotterdam to Turin. It was a nice accent I appreciated, showing that cops are no saints.

Now the cons. First of all it is a novel translated from Italian to English or, to be more precise, American English. In my humble but nevertheless professional opinion the translator tried too much to Americanize the text itself and, as a result, it felt neither here nor there. The book has lost much of its European flavours; even the European measurements and shoe sizes were changed which I found dreadfully hilarious. I think it was a mistake and a major flaw of the translation – trying too much to make everything nice and clear for the American market. It was also a bit condescending; after all plenty of Americans have visited the Old Continent and know very well that there are differences. Perhaps my opinion doesn’t reflect the majority of readers but when I am buying a book set in Italian Alps the last thing I want to encounter are such Americanisms as ‘sidewalk’, ‘tire iron’ ‘plastic baggie’ or ‘birdies tweeting’. It would be more or less ok if they were uttered by an American but Rocco is firmly an Italian guy so it sounded simply false and weird.

My other carping concerns the crime mystery itself. If you strip it from modern accoutrements, those snowcats (a.k.a piste bashers), joints,  computers, credit cards, gore-tex parkas and ski passes, the remainder is somewhat simplistic,  something perhaps worth of Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot but not a modern detective. I don’t want to spoil anybody but if you remember the main premises of Agatha Christie crime mysteries you’ll solve this crime before the first half of the book is over and all red herrings, thrown your way, will be ineffective. Still where is the enjoyment of being led astray?

The cover: simple but good. I like the colours.

Final verdict:

The translation ruined the story for me and it wasn’t a great story to begin with. Perhaps the second part will be better but I am not sure I want to check it that badly.


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8 Responses to Review: Black Run (Rocco Schiavone 01) by Antonio Manzini

  1. heidenkind says:

    I agree with you completely, although I thought the writing style was more compelling. The mystery really had to do with Rocco and his personal situation, but as I didn’t care about Rocco, that was a fail. Shame.

  2. blodeuedd says:

    Booo for bad translations

  3. xaurianx says:

    Lol I read in English as I prefer reading the original language, so translating from Italian to English is just as bad as English into Dutch. But as I don’t read Italian, this book will never be read by me. I am sorry it fell flat, and well, a wife and a mistress, of course it is the Italian way, but still? For the American market where marriage is sacred and the holy grail in most books?

    • Oh the wife and the mistress are simply necessary to make the guy an Italian. I suppose the translator assumed that the Americans would understand as much.
      If it is possible I also prefer reading books in their original language. Providing that it is not Chinese or Finnish of course ;p

  4. Carole Rae says:

    Booo for Americanized English (I’m American and I am not a fan).

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