Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Despite the hype it’s not the crocodile as “killing machine” that claims the interest in this unsophisticated translation from the Italian nor yet the fact that the killer weeps as he kills but the lives and psyche of Maurizio’s characters: investigators, victims, murderer.
Foremost is the gloomy D.I. Lojacono. Framed by the Mafia, shamed by the authorities and banished to Naples from his native Sicily, he is relieved to be rejected by his bitchy wife but devastated as she deprives him of his adored daughter. The screw is turned by his new sergeant: a happy bumbler with the best of intentions.
The murders themselves serve as little more than signals for investigations into relationships between diverse young people and their parents. The Crocodile himself, between killings, reveals tantalizing glimpses of an obsession in letters to an unnamed correspondent – letters concerned with the passing of yet another milestone in his lethal campaign, the motivation for which (and his identity) remaining secret even as he plans the death of his last victim, a six-months-old baby girl.
What starts as a modish jigsaw with crimes and nebulous clues in a sink estate, on campus, in an opulent suburb, coalesce against a background of Naples: “a dangerous and challenging place” where, unlike Leon’s Venice, no beauty is to be found under the sleaze and squalor.
Initially a pedestrian book with no overt sex and not much violence - and the love interest rather sweet. The homely owner of the chic trattoria falls for the unhappy policeman at the corner table; the Prosecutor, mourning her dead lover, blooms again as she works with the attractive and attracted Lojacono. No prurience, no torture as we know it; with hindsight all is predictable.
Surprising then that when the major clue, the one that unlocks the mystery, drops like a bomb you wonder why you didn’t see it coming. Probably because that hype was taken on trust and where you were anticipating a reptilian menace lurking in murky depths, you nodded off to be wakened by something nastier: a corrosive poison at work for decades, and compared with which the four minutes taken to drown in a croc’s jaws are a quick clean death.
Translated by Antony Shugaar.