Nevertobetold catches up with author Nadia Dalbuono about her new novel The American and the oddest places she gets ideas.
As autumn sets in, the queues outside the soup kitchens of Rome are lengthening and the people are taking to the piazzas, increasingly frustrated by the deepening economic crisis.
Detective Leone Scamarcio is called to an apparent suicide on the Ponte Sant Angelo, a stone’s throw from Vatican City. A man is hanging from the bridge, his expensive suit suggesting yet another businessman fallen on hard times. But Scamarcio is immediately troubled by similarities with the 1982 murder of Roberto Calvi, dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ because of his work for the Vatican Bank.
Tell me something that not many people know about you?
I have been a diehard Smiths fan from the age of 14 and my greatest regret is that I never got the chance to see them perform together live – they’d broken up by the time I started listening to them. I wanted Scamarcio to be into The Smiths so he could wax lyrical on the relative merits of Strangeways Here We Come versus The Queen is Dead but I thought it unlikely that he would have properly come across them in Calabria in the 1980s. Depeche Mode though were very big in Italy back then so I am allowing him some references to them in later books. They seem like a solid second choice.
It was originally expected that this series would actually be a duology, with this novel picking up the threads left in the The Few. Instead, we have a novel that is quite different. What prompted the change in direction – or was this always what you had planned?
This was always what was planned. Book two was never going to pick up where The Few left off although it was going to answer some remaining questions. There is also one particular question raised in The Few regarding Scamarcio’s father that is addressed in Book three when Scamarcio travels back to Calabria to speak with some of his father’s former associates.
Is your protagonist Leone any different when we meet him in The American than he was left in The Few?
I think he’s more cynical, more hardened. And I think he’s blurring the lines more with Piocosta. In Book One he was much more wary of his father’s old lieutenant but in The American he’s using him a lot more even though he knows the risk he’s running. It’s a vicious circle with Leone – he feels such a strong need to prove himself because of his background that he’s always looking for a quick result and Piocosta will always provide that. The Few left Leone strung out and in need of some stability back in Rome but by The American he’s found his feet again. He’s been seeing Aurelia but he’s starting to feel hemmed in and in need of space. You can’t win with Leone – he’s got his insecurities, he wants a partner to confide in but, once he has her, he wants to be free again, wants his independence.
What gave you the idea for the plot, and did it take a lot of research?
I’ve always been intrigued by the death of Roberto Calvi who was head of Banco Ambrosiano, a bank in which the Vatican was the main shareholder. He died in highly mysterious circumstances on Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 but the questions surrounding his death have never been answered. His suicide/murder was the primary inspiration for the book but I also worked on a documentary on Operation Gladio and this provided an extra push. For the sections of the book that deal with Carter, I did have to do a lot of research on America’s dirty wars as this was an area about which I only had a passing knowledge.
Is The American a detective novel or a thriller?
It is both I think.
Why did you pick Italy as the setting for this series?
I started spending a lot of time in Italy for work from 2008 onwards and found the complexities and ambiguities of Italian society intriguing. You have these picture postcard settings: the landscapes, the architecture, the artistic treasures but beneath it all there’s so much darkness; so much suspicion and mistrust. It’s a cauldron of nefarious activity and I like the contrast.
Any hints you can give us about what next for Leone?
His next case takes him into the world of Rome’s showbiz set and it’s a world in which he’s not particularly comfortable. It turns out to be one of his strangest cases to date and really tests his skills in front of the boss. It also forces him to face up to the mess he’s created for himself with Piocosta and how he’s going to extract himself from it. The question plaguing him now is can he get out or is it too late?
What is the oddest place/situation that you have ever come up with an idea for your writing?
The idea for book 3 came to me immediately after my husband and I and our one year old son had been involved in a nasty car crash. I was pregnant at the time and I was waiting on the gurney to see the doctor when the idea came to me. I can’t tell you anymore about this crash as it will ruin book 3 for you but I admit it’s a really bizarre situation in which to have an idea and I couldn’t work out why my mind was turning on this rather than more pressing matters. (Luckily everything turned out to be fine with us all even though the car was a write off!)