Maurizio de Giovanni (b. 1958, Naples) is best known for his prize-winning series set in 1930s Naples featuring Commissario Ricciardi, a loner with the paranormal ability to see and hear the murdered dead. A banker by profession, de Giovanni also writes short stories and books about historic matches of the Neapolitan soccer team. In his most recent novel, Il metodo del coccodrillo (The Method of the Crocodile) (Mondadori, 2012), de Giovanni debuts a contemporary police inspector, Giuseppe Lojacono, who transferred from Sicily to Naples following an accusation of collusion with the Mafia. This month I had the honor of interviewing the author about the language in the Ricciardi novels and the future of this captivating character.
To create the Commissario Ricciardi series, you conducted research on Naples in the 1930’s. Did you also research the language of the decade?
Certainly. My research on the Thirties, preparatory to the writing of the Ricciardi novels, anticipates the reading of narrative and newspapers of the period, as well as the viewing of talking films that, as is known, debuted in Italy precisely in 1931 (“Gli uomini, che mascalzoni [What Scoundrels Men Are!]” with the great Vittorio De Sica, the film that features the song “Parlami d’amore, Mariù [Speak to me of love, Mariù]” is from 1932). The language reflects this investigation, even though I naturally take into account common speech and dialectal inflexion.
You incorporate the dialect and regional Italian of Naples into your writing. What do you feel is the role of these languages in mysteries, particularly those set in an historical era like the Commissario Ricciardi series?
Absolutely fundamental. Starting in the post-war years, talking film and the radio homologized the language; but in the Ricciardi era dialect was the language of the people and is therefore indispensable if you want to maintain a realistic narration. And noir, as you know, must be totally realistic to maintain its credibility.
In Per mano mia (By my Hand), you depict a famous fish market in which the fish vendors shout out colorful phrases in Neapolitan to attract customers. How did you choose the language of this scene?
As usual, by gathering evidence accurately. Some texts exist, meritoriously published by small Neapolitan publishers, that recover the inviting cries of the traveling salesmen from the oral tradition and from the news of the era. There are also some videos available on YouTube from the Archivio Luce that I advise everyone to go and see because they’re charming.
Will the Neapolitan language be preserved in the television series based on Per mano mia?
The project is still in too much of an undeveloped state to allow me to make any predictions. What is certain is that if I have a say in the matter, I’ll try with all my might to preserve the full Neapolitanness of the story.
The Commissario Ricciardi mysteries have been translated into German, French, Spanish and English. How do you feel about translations of these books?
Naturally, having only a marginal or scholastic knowledge of these languages (except for German, which I don’t know at all), I’m not in a position to judge. From what I hear and read, however, Ricciardi is very lucky because the translations would appear to be of extremely high quality. In particular, the one in the English language by the extremely skillful Anne Milano Appel was nominated for the Dagger Award in its category, which certainly means something.
This year you debuted a new character, Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono. Is Per mano mia the last of Commissario Ricciardi?
Certainly not; I’m in the process of writing the next novel, which will be called Vipera (Viper) and will come out next November. Ricciardi still has many stories to tell.
Note: For more information about Maurizio de Giovanni, please visit his Facebook page and the page of the Maurizio de Giovanni Official Fan Club. Also be sure to read my post on Per mano mia. Il Natale del commissario Ricciardi (By My Hand: The Christmas of Commissario Ricciardi). This book is as compelling as it is creepy!
Photo: The above photo is courtesy of the author (you can tell he was destined to write noir!).