I nearly didn’t read this book because it concerns itself with a serial killer: a subject I think I have just about reached my lifetime limit on. However I had read several good reviews though I think the bigger factor for me just now was that it is blessedly, mercifully, wonderfully short. I am a bit fed up with massive, bloated tomes.
It is a story in three voices. In Bologna in Italy we meet Simone a young, blind man who rarely leaves the attic of his family’s apartment where he spends most of his time listening to a peculiar combination of jazz music, police scanners and other people’s mobile phone conversations. Ispettore Grazia Negro works for a special police unit which deals with serial crimes. She and the Unit’s head have linked several murders of young students together and have finally convinced judicial prosecutors that there is a single case to be investigated. The third voice is that of the killer who needs to quiet the noises in his head.
Although overall I liked the book I thought that only one of these voices, that of Simone, worked consistently well as both a mechanism for developing a strong character and for advancing the story. Lucarelli has really done an outstanding job of depicting what it is like to be this blind individual…not the stereotyped generic blind person common to much fiction but this particular man. He can’t understand descriptive words that others use and so has invented his own descriptive language which assigns colours to voices and so on and his description of falling in love with the voice singing a particular song he heard on his school bus radio is quite exquisite. The voice of Grazia is less engaging for me, partly because she spends half of the short book being impacted by her period pain (this is how you know it’s a book written by a bloke) and partly because I thought she flip-flopped too much between accepting the rampant misogyny around her and being angry about it. The voice of the killer was the least original of the three and could have been left out of the book entirely in my humble opinion.
As a story I found the book more consistent as we were led down a path of first linking the murders together then inserting our three characters into the narrative and having them .meet up with each other in intriguing ways. This could have been a cliché-fest but Lucarelli avoided all the pitfalls to produce a really gripping, if somewhat violent story. However at no point was anything gratuitous and in a book so short it would have been almost impossible to linger too long on any blood-soaked scene so I think even those who shy away from darker books could cope with this.
Even with its flaws this book did draw me in quickly and deeply to its setting and the overlapping, claustrophobic worlds of its three protagonists. The sparse writing style and bare kind of translation, which kept as many native Italian words as could be gotten away with, combined to make it a quick yet immersive reading experience. I gobbled up the whole thing in one day and then felt compelled to hunt down some of the music mentioned within the story to make myself an Almost Blue playlist which is not something I do very often at all. I am looking forward to other books by this author.
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Almost Blue has been reviewed at Fleur Fisher in her world, Petrona, Reading, fuelled by tea (where Yvann didn’t finish it for some reasons I agree with though I thought the translation was better than Yvann did), Reviewing the Evidence and The View from the Blue House (where I agree with Rob, the book was almost too short)
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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Oonagh Stransky
Publisher Vintage Books [this edition 2004, original edition 1997]
Length 169 pages
Book Series #1 in the Inspector Negro series
Source I bought it
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