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Italian Noir Fiction

A Private Venus. By Giorgio Scerbanenco. Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis. Melville House, 2014. $16.95.


Dr. Duca Lamberti has just been released from prison where he spent three years for helping an old woman who wanted to die do just that. He’s at loose ends, having lost his medical license, but a friend of his dead father’s finds a job for him. It seems a rich man’s twenty-something son, Davide Auseri, has become a problem drinker in the past year. The doctor’s job is to help the young man sober up.

His methods are kindly; he tries to reduce the young man’s alcohol intake gradually while at the same time uncovering the cause of the drinking. At last he does; the young man believes he is guilty of killing a young woman named Alberta Radelli, whose body was found near where he had dropped her off after having had sex with her one day. The girl had apparently committed suicide. Davide believes she would not have died had he taken her with him as she had begged him to do. Dr. Lamberti knows that the only way to make his patient whole again is to solve the mystery of how the young woman really died, so he turns to his father’s friend, Superintendent Carrua, a police official, and gets him to re-open the case on the strength of some pictures of the girl found on a roll of Minox film that Davide has held onto, undeveloped until Lamberti recognizes the film for what it is, for a year.

Carrua is willing to re-open the case, but he tells Lamberti to stay out of it; he has had enough trouble with the law. The world-weary Lamberti can’t do that, however, not if he is to win justice for Alberta Radelli and save Davide.

So, he takes matters into his own hands, enlisting the aid of another young woman, a friend of the dead Alberta’s, who acts as a stalking horse—with tragic consequences for her—as Davide and Lamberti uncover and destroy a vicious white slavery ring.

This novel was first published in Italian in 1966. It did not appear in English until March of 2014. Not only is it ripping good crime drama, but it moves you back into the past, into a world without cell phones or laptop computers, a world of conventional morality, but a world in which very real evil lurks at nearly every corner.