Neapolitan author Maurizio de Giovanni's novels have always been original and intensely realized, with occasional, much-welcomed flashes of humor. His quirky, well-drawn characters elicit the reader's emotions, and his powerfully vivid settings add atmosphere and depth to the dark, noir plots. In this newest novel, de Giovanni has created yet another brilliantly realized protagonist, Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono - lonely, wounded by life, and sympathetic. Lojacono, from Sicily, is fully familiar with the workings of organized crime there, and he has recently become a victim of its machinations. When a low level crook in Sicily identified the innocent Lojacono as an informant for organized crime, Lojacono became an instant pariah in the police department. With no evidence against him, however, there could no trial and therefore, no clearing of his name.
Sicily shipped him off the island to Naples, where, for the past ten months, Lojacono has been playing card games on the computer, prohibited from working on cases. Everything changes when the first of several murders occurs. While the rest of the department is looking for the usual connections to organized crime, Lojacono, alone among the department, begins to look elsewhere for the mysterious killer. The killer himself, meanwhile, is revealing his inner thoughts to the reader through his emotional messages to an invalid whom he loves. He travels through Naples, going anywhere he wants to go, but remains as invisible as a crocodile lurking beneath the surface of the water.
The old man's first murder, the shooting death of a teenage boy, is shocking in its unexpected and cold-blooded violence. Immediately afterward, the killer saunters off, unnoticed. The young boy was the much-loved son of a single mother, and though the boy has sold a handful of bags of drugs to other teenagers, he is not really a bad kid, just a teenager "doing a few favors" for someone else. A new head of investigation, a woman from Cagliari, Sardinia, shares Lojacono's wider view of the crime, and before long, Lojacono is providing information to her. Subsequent murders include a young girl, the daughter of a wealthy woman from upscale Posillipo; and later, a student whose father has been devoted to helping his son achieve success. With three deaths so close to the beginning of the novel, the reader feels drained by the horrors. All are teenagers whom any parent would be proud of, and when the killer lets the reader know that his next victim will be the youngest one yet, the novel becomes as dark as a noir novel can ever get.
The Crocodile broadens its scope as it broadens its characters, describing them and showing them in separate, seemingly unconnected chapters in the beginning, presenting their points of view, and providing unusually full characterizations for a noir novel. The teenage characters act like real teenagers, the adult characters reveal their often troubled backgrounds and histories, and the interminable quarrels within the department show male attitudes toward women and outsiders. The author succeeds in making this as much of a character novel as it is a novel of dark and violent crime. Ultimately, readers who are already familiar with Maurizio de Giovanni's work will be thrilled to see the author branching out and taking new chances, even as they thrill with the information that his fourth book of the year (part of his Commissario Ricciardi series) will be released this fall.