Detective in love

Barbara Pezzotti   Wellington

My friend and crime fiction enthusiast David Moss has recently wondered about the ways detectives are embedded in key social relations: their parents, families, and girlfriends. He commented that most of the fictional Italian sleuths he knew were males and had a troubled relationship with women. Indeed, following a tradition of the hard-boiled novel, most Italian investigators don’t have a stable partner and are often victim of the stereotypical femme fatale. Pinketts’s Lazzaro Santandrea happily swirls from one woman to another

(but he still lives with his mum). In “Il mistero di Mangiabarche” Carlotto’s Alligatore has a dangerous encounter with Gina who reveals herself to be a professional killer and a psychopath. In “Ragionevoli dubbi” Carofiglio’s Guido Guerrieri has an affair with a client’s wife. Even our beloved Inspector Montalbano cheated on his girl-friend Livia in “La pista di sabbia”. Undoubtedly, the detectives’ private life has become increasingly important in contemporary crime series and is now a vital element in creating addiction. However, this parade of “mammoni”, immature, insecure and womaniser sleuths makes me think: do these detectives tell us something about Italian society? Do we have the sleuths we deserve? What do you think?

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10 thoughts on “Detective in love

  1. Giuliana Pieri, Royal Holloway, University of London says:

    Nobody has mentioned Maigret who was hugely successful in Italy thanks to both books and the Tv series (produced by a young Camilleri). What about Madame Maigret? Maybe you need to be Belgian to be a successful detective and havea cosy marital relationship. i cannot think of other Frenco-phone examples with detectives with their other half.

  2. DM says:

    ‘Tragedy with a happy ending’ (Raymond Chandler’s definition of crime fiction). Since he was surely relying on Anglo-American c.f., do you think this applies to Italian c.f. too, Barbara?

    • Barbara Pezzotti says:

      Well, it works in most cases, but if I think about some Italian noirs (i.e. Carlotto) we could also talk about “a tragedy with an open ending” or “a tragedy with a supertragic ending” just like the outcome of the recent political elections in Italy. What do you normally like? An happy and reassuring ending? Or a pessimistic one? I am talking about crime fiction, now.

      • DM says:

        Your reference to the recent Italian elections: surely another first for the Belpaese – the abolition of the distinction between comedy and tragedy…..

  3. CaterinaSinibaldi says:

    What a good question, indeed! Even Angela Lansbury doesn’t seem to have much of a private life. It looks like being a detective is a 24-hour job. However, it’s very interesting to look at the different gender models for female and male detectives, also in relation to national stereotypes.

    • CaterinaSinibaldi says:

      of course I meant Jessica Fletcher 🙂

    • Barbara says:

      Yes, indeed. Jessica Fletcher belongs to the long list of detective-priests completely devoted to their missions. However, some recent crime fiction also sees a shift in focus “from investigation and case to protagonist and life” as Karin Molander Danielsson puts it (2002, 148). Apparently, the biographical part is particolarly relevent in crime series as a way to keep the reader hooked to the series itself. By the way, the ending of Jo Nesbo’s “Phantom” really broke my heart. What do you guys think?

  4. DM says:

    But then how many famous English detectives manage love at all? Miss Marple? Surely not, my dear. Sherlock Holmes? Only with cocaine. Hercule Poirot? At most an unhappy amitié a long time ago. Morse? Wagner pushes HIS boat out. Father Brown? Oh, please! Only Lord Peter Wimsey seems to have managed it eventually with Harriet Vane (who, ungrateful maiden, refused his gentlemanly advances for years even though he had saved her from the gallows). It makes for a sad list. I think I’ll just go and lie down in the library and wait for the butler to do it.

  5. DM says:

    It’s a good question, Barbara! Conversely, does Carolina Invernizio’s first Italian female detective Nina (Nina, la poliziotta dilettante, 1909) have problems with men? And what about Nina’s successors?

    • Barbara Pezzotti says:

      I haven’t read “Nina” yet, so I can’t tell you. I suspect she ends up by getting married and have a very conventional life, though. As for her successors, there is a wide range of different characters, such as la “profia” in Margherita Oggero’s books that is a witty school teacher torn between her (rather boring) husband and a fascinating police detective; or the p.i. Giorgia Cantini in Grazia Varesani’s books who is a female version of the typical hard-boiled detective. That means she has commitment issues. Summing up, ce n’e’ per tutti i gusti!

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