I had the opportunity to interview Andrea Camilleri, the maestro of Italian crime fiction, in Rome in 2009. He was relaxed, funny, gentlemanly and thoroughly content with his existence as one of the most popular authors in Italy, Europe and the world. It was one of the most memorable and enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done. Today, Camilleri passed away at 93. But what a life, what a body of work, what a loveable and immortal character. Here’s the story I wrote back then.
It’s once again a pleasure to work with the 10-18 publishing house in France. They just published the paperback (poche) version of Rip Crew: Trafiquants & Associés. And they put together a nice video for the launch. Merci beaucoup et bonne lecture…
In at least one respect, I am like Sherlock Holmes: I have a smarter brother. In fact, I have two smarter brothers: Carlo and Sal. Carlo’s new book just came out to great acclaim. It is called The World is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood. Mixing memoir, history, sociology and rigorous reporting, he tells the story of South Shore, the neighborhood in Chicago where we grew up. The result (according to many people who are not the author’s brother) is a masterpiece about the American city. If you read it, you will learn about race and class, bungalows and mansions, Raymond Chandler and Conan the Barbarian, crime and punishment, guns and music. You will meet an unforgettable gallery of characters: gunslingers, politicians, do-gooders, scoundrels, intellectuals, cowards, visionaries and decent hard-working Americans trying to get by in a harsh landscape being transformed by forces far beyond their control. (My favorites are probably a duo of ex-cops who deserve their own TV show: Hamilton and Daveed.) You will discover Carlo’s masterful voice, which combines highbrow intellect, streetwise journalism, virtuoso prose and, above all, a vivid and unique sense of humor. My career has taken me around the world but, as it is for my brothers, South Shore remains the place that prepared me for the world and shaped me as a person and a writer. My small contribution to the book is the epigraph. It comes from an interview I did for the Los Angeles Times with the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, a cheerful sage who said: “Tell the story of your village. If you tell it well, you will have told the story of the world.” This book achieves that daunting literary mission.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion with Francisco Cantú, the author of The Line Becomes a River, at International House in New York. Francisco served in the Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012. His book is a memoir about that experience: his internal conflicts, his gradual disillusionment and despair, his education about the plight of illegal immigrants. I have spent a lot of time with Border Patrol agents, riding and drinking and talking with them, listening to and telling their stories. I have written about the dark and heroic aspects of their world in both journalism and fiction. So I read his book–a rare inside account of an insular and wary institution–with great expectation. I was really impressed. And despite all the years I’ve spent covering the border, the book also surprised me. It was more poetic and introspective than I had expected, interweaving the somewhat predictable but always fascinating and poignant war stories with other narrative strands: dreams, historical and literary texts, the voices of the agents and, above all, the migrants who are often voiceless. It was not a surprise to discover that Francisco is a thoughtful, restrained and committed guy who is still working to explore and describe the tragic and complex realities of the borderlands. The paperback version of The Line Becomes a River was just published with an afterword that addresses today’s political uproar about border issues. (Although the current presidential administration had taken office while the hardcover was being edited, Francisco told me he decided not to insert material about the politics of the moment in that version because he wanted to focus on deeper, enduring, transcendent issues. I think that was a great choice.) Bottom line: I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it is a true literary achievement by a talented and promising author. I really enjoyed reading it and getting to know him, and I think you will too.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has launched The Last Column, a memorial initiative to celebrate the 1,337 journalists who have been killed in the line of duty since 1992. I had the privilege of meeting some of them, including Javier Valdez Cardenas and Marie Colvin. And I have met and worked with many others around the world, from Baghdad to Buenos Aires to Tijuana, who risk their lives on a daily basis against dangerous and powerful forces. As part of the initiative, the CPJ has published a book. We should honor their memory.
This is journalism, not fiction. But it is quite a tale. Perhaps an entertaining listen for a holiday weekend. Many thanks to the folks at the Today, Explained Podcast at Vox.
I’m happy and grateful to report that Kirkus Reviews has named Rip Crew one of the best mysteries and thrillers of 2018. Very nice to be included included along with such names as Laura Lippman, Daniel Silva and Dan Fesperman.
I recently read I Am Not a Monster, a crime novel by Carme Chaparro. AmazonCrossing will publish it in English on November 13. I recommend it highly.
In Spain, Carme Chaparro is a star: a respected television journalist and an award-winning, best-selling author. Her debut thriller in English, I am not a Monster, will make her a star in America as well. The plot is propulsive, intricately constructed and enriched by meticulous research. Chaparro also takes the time to develop vivid characters with complex backstories. Having worked and lived in Spain, I can confirm that the portrait of Spanish law enforcement in action–from the hard-charging personalities to the dogged investigative work—rings true. The story of two high-powered women, a detective and a journalist, plunged into the hunt for missing children and a mysterious predator, is relentlessly suspenseful. The twists and turns will give you whiplash. In the end, this book succeeds as a mystery and as a story about the nobility and darkness of the human soul.