One of the great pleasures of a book reviewer’s life (this book reviewer, at any rate) is the opportunity to introduce new talent to the mystery-reading public. Problem is, there is some expectation (and understandably so) that upcoming works by bestselling writers will get ink, and there is only so much room each month in the print edition of BookPage (www.bookpage.com). Solution: I have no such limitations here, and so I would like to take this occasion to showcase the debut of Conor Fitzgerald in The Dogs of Rome (Bloomsbury; ISBN 9781608190157; 400pp; $25.00; March 2010). The series opener, which takes place in the Italian capital, features world-weary Police Commissario Alec Blume. Blume, you say? Um, that doesn’t sound like an Italian name—and indeed it isn’t, for Blume is an American expat, though a longtime resident of Rome, who has built a career for himself as the city police force’s token Yank. Note: this is a career path not terribly dissimilar to author Fitzgerald’s: born in England, lived in Ireland and the US, now resident in Rome since the late 1980s.
The tale opens with the brutal murder of the husband of a Roman senator, stabbed to death in his apartment shortly after his mistress has left the premises, and shortly before his wife and son arrive home from Padua. The senator is well connected, as senators often are, and she makes it clear at the outset that she intends to drive the investigation in the direction she wants it to go, or at least so it seems to the beleaguered Commissario Blume. The thing is, the whole scenario proposed by the Senatrice and her police force go-to guys seems just a little too pat for Blume, so he conducts his own under-the-radar investigation while ostensibly following the leads offered up by the powers that be. Blume pokes one hornet’s nest after another, probing for guilty reactions; what he does not entirely expect is how expendable he is, both to the criminal element of Rome (who clearly have no compunctions about taking a police officer off the playing field) and his own superiors, who are much too busy pandering to the politicians and covering their own broad bottoms to have a great deal of concern for the safety of a too-nosy police officer.
Blume is a well drawn character, sleep-deprived, occasionally cranky, sharp tongued, by times insecure—in other words, quite human. The story is rapidly paced and thoroughly believable, particularly to anyone who is skeptical that politics and justice can coexist in one arena. Fitzgerald deftly displays the expat’s conundrum (a situation with which I have some familiarity): the expectation that you will stand out (hopefully in a good way) paired with the reality that you will always be a foreigner, no matter how long you stay, no matter how well you absorb the language and culture. Well done! I am looking forward to installment two.