THE NAMESAKE - Conor Fitzgerald
Perhaps I should just start this off by saying Mafia storylines are possibly my least favourite scenarios. Maybe (and probably unfairly) it seems like an easy target, the other possibility is that there's rarely anything new or illustrative about their activities. Either way, I'm acutely aware that this is a personal prejudice which is undoubtedly irrational and unreasonable.
Adding to the complication was THE NAMESAKE being the third Commissario Alex Blume novel, and my not having read either of the earlier ones. This meant that Blume, an interesting, enigmatic and flawed character, was not always quite fully fleshed out in my mind. Whilst not having read the earlier books didn't seem to matter in terms of picking up the plot of this part thriller / part police procedural, somehow I couldn't help wondering if the slightly disconnected feeling I was getting could be partially because it would have been better to have read this series in order. Whilst there were some aspects of Blume's backstory built into THE NAMESAKE, somehow he always seemed slightly distant, fuzzy around the edges. Perhaps other reviewers, who have read the full series, will be able to be much clearer on this requirement.
Given that involvement of the Ndreangheta in the plot, it wasn't all that surprising to find some predictable elements being explored - corruption, loyalty, power plays, so called "honour", vengeance and vendetta. The main plot pits Blume directly against one of the main underworld figures, whilst the sub-plot, the death of a poor unfortunate man who just happens to have the same name as a well-known Magistrate, is left to Blume's colleague (and romantic partner) Caterina and the rest of the team. The pace of the investigation is rapid, although the storyline doesn't always serve that well with the action frequently getting bogged down in a lot of extraneous meanderings into complicated family setups, past and present activities and what seemed like a lot of dead-end alleyways.
The best part of the book was undoubtedly Blume, who is one of those classic strongly principled, but deeply flawed men. Struggling with commitment issues in his personal life, he's professionally decisive especially when it means he can avoid being quite so proactive personally. Although this did lead to a couple of scenes which, seemed somewhat disconnected from the main action, did provide some quite funny moments (I'm never going to park anywhere near a rubbish dump ever again in my life!),
The book also has a strong sense of place and culture. It felt quintessentially Italian in style and tone. Whilst it could very well be that people with more interest in things Mafia would find THE NAMESAKE works as a standalone, to be honest, I wish I'd read the earlier books first, but I'm definitely going to do just that.
When magistrate Matteo Arconti's namesake, an insurance man from Milan, is found dead outside the court buildings in Piazzo Clodio, it's a clear warning to the authorities in Rome--a message of defiance and intimidation from a powerful crime syndicate.
Commissioner Alec Blume, interpreting the reference to his other ongoing case--a frustrating one in which he's so far been unable to pin murder on a Mafia boss operating at an untouchable distance in Germany--knows he's too close to it. Handing control of the investigation to now live-in and not-so-secret partner Caterina Mattiola, Blume takes a backseat. And while Caterina embarks on questioning the Milanese widow, Blume has an underhand idea of his own to lure the arrogant mafioso out of his hiding place...