The burden against Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?”
Not many of us will be able to recognise this quote from the Book of Isaiah (21:11), which gives the title, as well as quite an eerie atmosphere, to one of the best-known detective novels by writing duo Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini (also known, in a delightfully self-mocking way, as La Ditta, The Firm). When you read the novel, however, you quickly realise how there couldn’t be a more fitting title for this wonderfully dark and intricate detective novel.
The UK audience might be familiar with the sun-kissed Sicilian village of Vigata, where Inspector Montalbano, in between leisurely swims and mouth-watering meals, solved atrocious crimes and personal vendettas in the series by late author Andrea Camilleri. If you want to know what Fruttero & Lucentini’s novel is about, think the exact opposite of that. Set against the backdrop of the smoky and fast-moving Turin of the 1970s, the novel takes place almost entirely during the long foggy nights of a Northern Italian winter. We’re still at the height of the post-war economic boom and Turin is one of Italy’s main business hubs, its cogs turning relentlessly at any time of the day. The main protagonist, Inspector Santamaria, a cynical yet charming lone wolf, is called to investigate a series of odd crimes – starting with a bomb explosion in the middle of a church – which will lead him on a frantic and seemingly endless chase. The ending is one of the most satisfying ending to a detective novel I’ve ever read in my life – I’m not even exaggerating – and will keep you glued to the page until the very end.
This novel is part of a duology, along with La donna della domenica, translated in English as The Sunday Woman by William Weaver and published by Collins in 1973. Both novels are set in Turin and have Inspector Santamaria as their main character. Both novels have had a screen adaptation – a TV series for What Of The Night and a film for The Sunday Woman – and both are critically acclaimed and well loved in Italy.
The Sunday Woman is not the only book by F+L to have been translated into English: Enigma in luogo di mare and La verità sul caso D. were both published by Chatto&Windus in 1994 with the titles An Enigma By The Sea and The D Case: the Truth About The Mystery of Edwin Drood, respectively.
Granted, Fruttero & Lucentini are not incredibly well-known in the English speaking word, not compared to the above mentioned Andrea Camilleri, or to the poster child of contemporary Italian literature Elena Ferrante. That being said, there is no reason why they shouldn’t become so. There has undoubtedly been a recent surge in interest for contemporary Italian literary and genre fiction – an antidote, maybe, to the rise of some less open-minded views and (I’m not going to say it, I’m not, okay I am) Brexit (there, I said it). Fruttero & Lucentini’s work, and What Of The Night in particular, would be a great tool to showcase a different view of Italy that is certainly less known to the wider public than the bustling streets of Naples or the wind-swept coasts of Sicily, but might therefore attract more attention and curiosity. In particular, I believe F+L’s use of sharp, precise language and dry humour would work very well in translation and Santamaria’s no-nonsense straight-to-the-point approach would be well-loved abroad.
In short, Fruttero & Lucentini’s would be a fantastic voice to add to the growing plethora of Italian authors finding a home on English-speaking shelves and What Of The Night, one of their best works, would be the perfect place to start.
This is M signing out for now! ✨