Showing posts with label Gialli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gialli. Show all posts

18 February 2024

Alessandro Varaldo – crime writer and playwright

The first Italian author of gialli to be accepted by Mondadori

Varaldo's Il sette bello was the
first giallo by an Italian
Alessandro Varaldo, the author credited with creating the first fictional Italian police officer, died on this day in 1953 in Rome.

His character, the police commissario Ascanio Bonichi, made his first appearance in Varaldo’s novel Il sette bello - the name by which Italians refer to the seven of diamonds in a deck of cards - which was published by Mondadori in 1931.

The author had been approached by Arnaldo Mondadori himself and encouraged to create a novel in Italian to appeal to the readers who were already eagerly buying their gialli, the Italian translations of English, American and French detective novels that the firm published.

Gialli take their name from the distinctive yellow - giallo in Italian - covers used by Mondadori for their crime novels in the 1930s. 

Varaldo was born in Ventimiglia in Liguria in 1873 and grew up to become a journalist, novelist and playwright. From 1910 onwards he wrote novels, short stories and plays and contributed to newspapers such as Gazzetta del Popolo and Il Caffaro. 

He was president of the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers between 1920 and 1928 and director of the Academy of Dramatic Art in Milan from 1943.

In 1931, the Italian Government had brought in measures to try to curb the number of translated books by foreign authors being published, which encouraged Varaldo, along with other authors at the time, to try his hand at the genre.

Varaldo, who was also a journalist, wrote seven other gialli in addition to Il sette bello
Varaldo, who was also a journalist, wrote
seven other gialli in addition to Il sette bello
Esteemed for the quality of his writing, which Mondadori considered essential for the books they published, Varaldo became the first Italian author accepted into Mondadori’s series of gialli, and he went on to write eight mysteries for them. He was able to reconcile the traditionally Anglo-Saxon genre of crime fiction with Fascist values in order to comply with the dictates of the Mussolini regime.

He portrayed Bonichi as a down to earth character from the countryside who solved his cases by chance, rather than using the more scientific methods employed by other fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.

His novels were set in Rome before the war and described the city’s Baroque and neo-Baroque buildings, which formed a theatrical background during the night and at dawn, when the silhouette of a figure could be illuminated. Crime fiction experts think this evoked an irretrievable past for his readers to escape to.

Varaldo wrote a total of eight gialli between 1931 and 1938 and he also wrote some drammi gialli -detective plays - before his death.

Travel tip: 

Ventimiglia, where Alessandro Varaldo was born, is the last major town on the Italian riviera before the border with France, which is about 6km (3.7 miles) away. Situated about 130km (81 miles) west of the Ligurian capital Genoa, it is not a well known as nearby Sanremo but has plenty going for it, nonetheless, its charm enhanced by the pastel colours of its houses. The town is divided in two by the Roia river, which separates the newer lower town from the old upper town - Ventimiglia Alta - which sits on a hill encircled by walls. Ancient buildings and churches dating back to the 10th century make the climb worthwhile, as does the spectacular view over the Ligurian sea. The mediaeval old town is also home to the Biblioteca Civica Aprosiana - founded by the writer and Augustan monk Angelico Aprosio in 1648 - has one of the largest collections of 17th century manuscripts and books in Italy.  The elegant lower town is best known for the massive open-air market that takes place in the beautiful setting of the lungomare - the promenade - every Friday. There are a smaller number of stalls open on the other days of the week. For beach lovers, the Spiaggia dei Balzi Rossi and the Spiaggia delle Calandre are only a short walk from the centre.

Travel tip:

The Mondadori publishing house, whose Gialli Mondadori broke new ground in publishing in Italy as the first book series to feature detective and crime stories alone, was launched in Ostiglia, an historical town about 160 km (99 miles) southeast of Milan and about 30 km (19 miles) from Mantua. In Roman times, when it was called Hostilia, its location on the Via Claudia Augusta Padana saw it become a trade hub linking Emilia with northern Europe.  In the Middle Ages it was a stronghold of Verona before being acquired in turn by the Scaliger, Visconti and Gonzaga families. The Palazzina Mondadori, an elegant Art Nouveau-style building that was the first Arnoldo printing house, hosts Arnoldo Mondadori’s private library consisting of about 1,000 books, many signed by the authors. Mondadori relocated to Milan in 1929 and now boasts a modern headquarters in the suburb of Segrate, to the east of the centre.

More reading:

How Giorgio Mondadori helped launch the newspaper La Repubblica

Why Augusto De Angelis is regarded as the 'father of Italian crime fiction'

The Naples bank worker who became a leading modern crime writer

Also on this day:

1455: The birth of painter Fra Angelico

1564: The death of painter and sculptor Michelangelo

1626: The birth of biologist Francesco Redi

1967: The birth of footballer Roberto Baggio

1983: The birth of tennis champion Roberta Vinci


27 January 2024

Marco Malvaldi – crime writer and chemist

Author has mastered the science of detective fiction

Marco Malvadi began his writing career with La briscola in cinque
Marco Malvadi began his writing
career with La briscola in cinque
Novelist Marco Malvaldi, who has written a prize-winning mystery featuring the real-life 19th century Italian culinary expert Pellegrino Artuso as his fictional sleuth, was born on this day in 1974 in Pisa.

Malvaldi, who is a graduate in chemistry from Pisa University, has also written a travel guide about his home town with the title Scacco alle Torre (Checkmate to the Tower), which has been presented at the Pisa Book Festival. In the book, he writes a story about a nocturnal walk through the city entitled Finalmente soli (Finally Alone), which was inspired by an image taken by a professional photographer, Nicola Ughi, a fellow Pisan, who has become his official portraitist. 

He began his writing career in 2007 with a mystery novel, La briscola in cinque (Game for Five), published by Sellerio Editore. The novel’s protagonist, Massimo, a barista, and the owner of a bar named BarLume, which is a play on the Italian word barlume, which means 'flicker of light', is forced into the role of investigator in the fictional seaside resort town of Pineta on the Tuscan coast.  

Other books in the series followed and three have been translated into English: Il gioco delle tre carte (Three-card Monte), Il re dei giochi (The King of Games) and La carta più alta (The Highest Card).

In 2011, Malvaldi’s novel, Odore di chiuso (The Scent of Must) was published by Sellerio Editore and later published in English under the title, The Art of Killing Well. It featured Pellegrino Artusi, a renowned 19th century gastronomist from the Romagna region, as his fictional detective. The novel was awarded the Isola d’Elba Award and the Castiglioncello Prize. 

Malvadi's novel The Art of Killing Well
Malvadi's novel The
Art of Killing Well
Malvaldi published a thriller in 2012, Milioni di milioni (Millions of Millions), which is set in the fictional Tuscan town of Montesodi Marittimo, and features a university geneticist and an archivist, who form an unusual team of amateur investigators. In 2013, Malvaldi was awarded the literary prize, Premio Letterario La Tore Isola d’Elba - two of five literary honours his books have won.

After graduating, Malvaldi also did research in the department of pharmacy at Pisa University and he has written several books about science. His book, Le due teste del tiranno: metodi matematici per la Libertà (The Two Heads of the Tyrant: Mathematic Methods for Freedom), published in 2017, won a 2018 Asimov award, for the best book in scientific dissemination published in Italy.

Malvaldi, whose birthday today is his 50th, has also co-authored books with Roberto Vacca, Dino Leporini, journalist and poet Ernesto Ragazzoni among many others. 

Malvaldi’s partner is Samantha Bruzzone, who is also a chemist and passionate about detective fiction. Together, they have written two children’s books and in 2022 the novel, Chi si ferma e perduto (Who Stops is Lost).

Pisa's leaning tower began to  tilt soon after it was built
Pisa's leaning tower began to 
tilt soon after it was built
Travel tip:

Pisa is world famous for its leaning tower, which Malvaldi writes about in his book Scacco alle Torre (Checkmate to the Tower). Work began on the construction of a freestanding bell tower for the Cathedral in Pisa in 1173. The tower’s famous tilt began during the building process and is believed to have been caused by the laying of inadequate foundations on ground that was too soft on one side to support the weight of the structure. The tilt got worse over the years until work had to be carried out to correct it in the 20th century. At its most extreme, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees but since the restoration work carried out between 1990 and 2001 the tower leans at about 3.99 degrees. The tower was reopened to the public in 2001, when it was declared that it would be stable for another 300 years.

The picturesque harbour at the port of Portoferraio on the island of Elba off the Tuscan coast
The picturesque harbour at the port of Portoferraio
on the island of Elba off the Tuscan coast
Travel tip:

The Tuscan coast, which Malvaldi fictionalises in some of his books, has a long stretch of sandy beaches that include holiday destinations such as Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi, Catiglioncello, Follonica, Castiglione della Pescaia, Porto Ercole, Talamone, and many others. Off the coast is the island of Elba, a popular destination for holidaymakers who arrive by ferry at Portoferraio, where there is an old port and a modern seafront with hotels. The west coast of the island has sandy beaches, but the east coast is more rugged with high cliffs. Inland there are olive groves and vineyards producing the wine, Elba DOC. You can visit Napoleon’s two residences while he was in exile on the island, Palazzina Naopleonica, a modest house built around two windmills in Portoferraio, and Villa San Martino, his country house, further inland at San Martino and decorated inside with Egyptian-style frescoes.

Also on this day:

98: Trajan becomes Emperor of Rome 

1861: Italy elects its first parliament

1881: The birth of mobster Frank Nitti

1901: The death of composer Giuseppe Verdi

1927: The birth of writer and novelist Giovanni Arpino

1962: The birth of musician Roberto Paci Dalò


28 June 2022

Augusto De Angelis - crime writer

One of the first Italians to write detective novels

Augusto De Angelis had many years working as a journalist
Augusto De Angelis had many
years working as a journalist

Regarded by many as the father of Italian crime fiction, the novelist Augusto De Angelis was born on this day in 1888 in Rome.

His first detective novel,  Il banchiere assassinato (The Murdered Banker), was published in 1935, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori launched their crime series in yellow covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

However, until Alessandro Varaldo's Il sette bello in 1931 there were no Italian authors on the Mondadori list to begin with, as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time. De Angelis did not agree with this, as he thought crime fiction was a natural product resulting from the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about as a journalist.

De Angelis gave up studying jurisprudence to embark on a career in journalism and worked for some of the most important daily newspapers during the first half of the 20th century, such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin, Il Resto di Carlino in Bologna and L’Ambrosiano in Milan.

He began his literary career by writing plays and non-fiction and then wrote a spy novel in 1930. But his most successful novels were his detective stories featuring Commissario Carlo De Vincenzi. To begin with, Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, Mussolini and his associates eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

De Angelis was among the first Italian
authors in Mondadori's gialli series
Il banchiere assassinato was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis to feature Commissario De Vincenzi of the squadra mobile of Milan, which the novelist produced over the next eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from famous characters already popular with readers, such as the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical, fussy little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

It is interesting to see how many of the traits of Commissario De Vincenzi have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates is a quality shown by Donna Leon’s detective, Brunetti, and his disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration are characteristics of both Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The cultured and often emotional detective, De Vincenzi, was to become very popular with the Italian public, but the Fascist government eventually came to regard his creator, De Angelis, as their enemy.

De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities in 1943, accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released from prison after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist to where he was staying in Bellagio. De Angelis was beaten up so badly by the thug that he died of his wounds in hospital in Como in 1944.

Pushkin Vertigo's English translation
of The Murdered Banker 
The Murdered Banker is now regarded as a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction. The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when police officer De Vincenzi is on the night shift. He is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, De Vincenzi receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address, he is horrified to discover the body has been found in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money , which was due to be paid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him. De Vincenzi doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancée, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Some of the De Vincenzi novels were adapted for television by RAI in the 1970s with Paolo Stoppa playing the role of the detective. An English translation of The Murdered Banker was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016.

A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked
in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
Travel tip:

The Murdered Banker is set in Milan during the 1930s, where gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night. De Angelis would have known the city well from his time working for L’Ambrosiano. The opera house, Teatro alla Scala, which features in The Murdered Banker, was treated almost like a club and people in society visited each other in their boxes during the opera.  Milan’s world- famous opera house was officially inaugurated in 1778. It replaced the Teatro Regio Ducale which had been destroyed by fire. The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how it got its name. It is situated right in the centre of Milan opposite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. La Scala, as it is popularly known, has hosted premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini and the world’s finest singers have appeared on its stage.

A steep stone staircase typical of Bellagio
A steep stone staircase
typical of Bellagio
Travel tip

Bellagio in Lombardy, where De Angelis was living just before his death, is a village on a promontory jutting out into Lake Como, at the point at which the lake divides into two legs, the more easterly of which is called Lago di Lecco. It is known for its cobbled lanes, elegant buildings, steep stone staircases, red-roofed and green-shuttered houses. The Villa Serbelloni Park, an 18th century terraced garden, offers spectacular views of the lake. The villa itself was once popular with European royalty, numbering Maximilian I of Austria and Queen Victoria of England among its guests.

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, 16th century author and advocate of good manners

1909: The birth of partisan Walter Audisio, who claimed to be the man who executed Mussolini

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso