HOBBS’ DEBUT LEAVES THE READER SEEKING RETRIBUTION AND A LOT MORE

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Retribution CvrItaly is famous for many things, great wine, good food, fast cars, football, as the seat of Catholicism, for great fashion and more recently for being over run by African immigrants. We should also not forget its notoriety for crime, in particular mafia related crime. That brings us on to this months book, “Retribution” by Malcolm Hobbs – sent to us by the lovely people at Percy Publishing (www.percy-publishing.com).

Naples, Italy 1969. Two men are gunned down by the Camorra, the city’s organised crime gang.  One, a candidate for the Communist Party, is about to set up a newspaper to expose corrupt politicians who do the Camorra’s bidding. The second, a detective with the Naples Police Department, has just uncovered the identity of a mole who is passing vital police information to the Camorra. Both assassinated men have 14 year-old daughters – only children who adore their fathers and vow to avenge their murders.

The book opens with Rosetta, the daughter of the communist politician, at a meeting presided over by her mother’s father – a crime-boss, head of one of one of the city’s powerful Camorra families.  Steeped in the Camorra tradition, Rosetta is looking for blood – the revenge killing of those who murdered her father. When we first meet Teresa, the detective’s daughter, she is in the Palace of Justice. Her plan is to study law, become a Prosecuting Magistrate and bring her father’s murderers to justice. At this stage of the book – page 30 – I settled down for a good read. This was an interesting set-up.  A thriller that sets vigilantism versus the law, criminal recrimination versus justice. In the gritty underworld of Neapolitan crime and punishment, which would win out?

It proved to be a set-up, alright – but not the type I’d imagined.

My enthusiasm began to wane when, co-incidentally, both girls are sent to the same private school in the Lake District of England (where else do Neapolitan girls go to school?).  Over the next 150 pages they become best friends, Rosetta terrorizes the school bullies, one of their gang is raped by a teacher and Rosetta sets up the teacher’s murder in Hong Kong (as sixteen-year -old girls do!).

The plot (?) then abruptly shifts to a just-married Rosetta – married to the son of a millionaire, of course. To make a long (and tedious) story short: her husband is gunned down, Rosetta murders his killer, goes to prison, uses her Camorra connections to run the place and get released, establishes herself as a Madrina (god-mother), inherits her dead husband’s millions, sets up an internationally successful fashion-designer business and avenges her father’s murder. Meanwhile, Teresa is working in dusty, dingy law offices and has no life beyond her work.

Credibility score – zero. But the coherence factor was the most disconcerting.  Suffice it to say that the narrative was about as coherent as you would get from randomly changing TV channel at half-hour intervals.

What became obvious very early on was that this book wasn’t written for the ordinary thriller reader. No, this book was written for a unique type of reader – the reader who can produce a film or TV series contract from his/her back pocket. But what film could that be? St Trinians meets the Godfather? The Devil meets Prada in Prisoner Cell Block H?

St Trinians

Writing without regard for the general reader is one thing. But to treat the reader as a chump is another. The sucker-punch came at the very end. Having persevered out of a sense of bemused curiosity – how will all these half-developed plots come together? How does it all finish up? I was hit between the eyes with “To be continued”!!!

This book is a set-up – a set-up for the sequel.

My verdict? Dorothy Parker’s widely reputed quip “This is not a book to lightly thrown aside. It should be thrown with great force” immediately comes to mind. Ideally thrown at the author – with such accuracy that it causes significant pain.

“Retribution” is the debut novel of Malcolm Hobbs, the chap who

Malcolm Hobbs

Malcolm Hobbs

has generated my ire and, guess what? the Percy Publishing  site now indicates that  his next book “Don’t Make An Enemy Of Me” is COMING SOON!!

Malcolm’s brief biog indicates that he has experience as a welfare officer and magazine editor and candidly acknowledges that his “own employment was a very far cry from the corruption and malice that I write about”.  Well, sorry Malcolm. There is a reason why every source of advice to would-be authors emphasizes the “write about what you know” rule. It’s because that’s what works. The “what-I-imagine-will-make-me-loadsa-money” approach doesn’t.

I’M NOT SCARED OF GIVING THIS ITALIAN A RED CARD

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I'm Not ScaredWhat do Italy, The Lord Of The Flies, The Blair Witch Project and some dodgy translation have to do with this month’s book review? A lot as it happens, and I’m not just referring to the plot. Well not all of it anyway.

I’m Not Scared” is Niccolo Ammanati’s third book to be translated, published in 2001 it was made into an Italian film in 2003. His previous books include “Branchie” and “Fango”, which were also made into films.

“I’m Not Scared”, tells the story of Michele a 9-year-old boy growing up in a one-dog hamlet in southern Italy. On a hot summers day he and his friends stumble upon a dilapidated old house into which Michele is forced to enter as a forfeit for having come last in an earlier game. Inside he discovers a boy held captive in a hole. Unsure who he can tell, he keeps the secret to himself and strikes up a mono syllabic friendship; while returning to feed the captive and also discover the identity of the captors. At least one member of the village is involved, the local Yob. Are some of his own family involved too and what part does the stranger from the north who comes to stay in his house and sleep his room play in this?

The others in the book group thought it was great and likened it to Golding’s “ The Lord Of the Flies”. I had to protest, as I’d read that book in school and there was no comparison. The Lord of The Flies had thrilled me from beginning to end, especially the climax – The dramatic pursuit of Ralph across the island by Jack and his tribe, often left me breathless. While “I’m Not Scared” left me wondering why they bothered to translate it all.

“Sucks you in like the Blair Witch Project”, it screamed at me from the cover. That movie was scary the first time round, after discovering it was a work of fiction I haven’t watched it since. This book is a complete work of fiction from the start and no matter how many times I read it I could get more engrossed in an empty Chianti bottle.

So you get the feeling I didn’t like Ammaniti’s offering. Okay, so the niccolo-ammanitichildish narrative and speech, especially the dialogue between Michele and his sister, were quirky and spot on. But references to Scotch tape, and other very English and un-Italian like products. Helped the translation stick out as being obviously done by someone with more experience of Bangers and Mash then Cabonara.

The book did bring back memories of an idyllic week I spent in Tuscany a couple of years ago, but that’s about all.

(First published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2009)