THE DOGS OF ROME, the first book in the series by Conor Fitzgerald, introduces Commissario Alex Blume. Blume is a native of Seattle, the child of American art historians, who came to Rome when he was a young teenager. His parents were killed in a botched robbery when he was 18 and because he has no family, he was “adopted” by the police who were investigating the killings. In as much as it is possible, Blume is Roman but there is just that little thing about him that keeps him an outsider. He has no family and in Italy, that marks him as different.
Alex is on vacation when he gets the call to go to Arturo Clemente’s apartment. He is one of the last of the members of the team to arrive. Even his boss has been and gone. “Vicequestore Aggiunto Franco Gallone is Blume’s immediate superior. Everyone referred to him as the Holy Ghost, but nobody could say for sure where the name came from. It stuck, because he was invisible when the hard work was being done, but somehow always present with a pious demeanor whenever the press or his superiors invoked his presence.” Clearly, there is no question that this investigation is going to be messy and complicated by the presence of politicians who will lay claim to a successful resolution and hang Blume out to dry if it isn’t resolved to their satisfaction. In other words, find the killer but make-sure no one is embarrassed by his identity.
Arturo Clemente has been brutally murdered in his home. There is a box from a grocer near the body indicating that the killer was admitted to the apartment by Clemente. His wife is a member of Parliament and it is she and their young son who find the body. This puts the murder of Clemente at the top of the list of must see/must know for all the Italians. Clemente is, himself, a famous man. He is an animal rights activist and his current crusade is aimed against the people who sponsor dog fights, an activity that makes significant money for the people behind the illicit fights. Renato Alleva runs the dog fights because he has the protection of someone higher in the food chain. Alleva has protection from someone, most likely Benedetto Innocenzi whose daughter, Manuela, is Clemente’s mistress.
Organized crime is complicated, strands tie in some places, spread out in others. But Blume is told early in the investigation not to look in the usual places for the killer. The Mafia had no reason to kill. In fact, Innocenzi wants to catch the killer himself because of the unhappiness Clemente’s death has brought to his daughter.
No one had a reason to kill Arturo Clemente. So, why is he dead?
Alex Blume is a great addition to the list of police investigators who have to work through the machinations of political animals in order to get their jobs done. He is an interesting character with an interesting background. It is both to his advantage and to his disadvantage that he is an outsider, something that will never change no matter how long he lives in Rome. Fitzgerald does not make Rome a character in the story. The politics and the police culture are unique to Rome, but the story itself could be set in any city.
Fitzgerald is funny. This is a dialogue driven story; there is action but the reader needs to pay attention to the verbal interaction between and among the characters. The paragraphs given over to exposition are filled with information that moves the story forward. The make sure everyone is paying attention, Fitzgerald slides in a sentence or two that makes the reader laugh-out-loud. Finding the book a year after publication works in my favor, at least for the moment. I don’t have to wait for a new addition to the series, it is already available. On the other hand, if the second book is as good as the first, waiting for the third is going to seem endless.