From Nordic Noir to Nero Nostra? Inspector Luca

22 Apr

Originally posted on Nordic Noir:

From Nordic Noir to Nero Nostra?  Inspector Luca

As an erstwhile reluctant, then fully converted, follower of the Saturday evening BBC4 slot, the Montalbano series was my ‘chill out with chocolate’ comfort zone.   The all too early ending of the series left a gap which was filled, curiously enough, by Nordic Noir.

Nudged slightly protesting into said Nordic Noir, I started to try to analyse what it was that made the two very different programmes so satisfying.   (Quantifying the unquantifiable?)

The Nordic Noir formula could arguably be defined by the six Ps of politics, passion, power, psychology, press, and place.   On the other hand, Nero Nostra appears to have a slightly different focus encompassing duty, camaraderie, seduction, sustenance, society, survival.   


And so to Luca….  

Expecting something along the Montalbano lines (Mafia power, camaraderie of the job, challenges of outside work relationships, ethical decisions – all dished up in…

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DVD News: Mammon – The Complete Season One

15 Apr

Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir label continues to scour the globe in order to bring UK viewers the very best in foreign language film and television. Following the incredible success of Danish dramas The Killing and Borgen (which has just been nominated for its second TV BAFTA), the Danish/Swedish co-production The Bridge, and French title Braquo, Nordic Noir are pleased to announce the arrival of their first Norwegian television acquisition MAMMON.

To be released as a DVD box set and Digital Download on Monday May 5th, MAMMON is currently airing on C4’s sister channel More 4.

Drawing comparisons to the American political thriller All The President’s MenMAMMON follows uncompromising investigative journalist Peter Verås, one of the country’s most well-respected writers, who uncovers evidence of serious financial fraud within the Norwegian government.

Delving further into the case, relying on information passed to him by an anonymous source, Verås discovers a shocking revelation – that his own brother is heavily involved in the illegal activity.

Struck with guilt and confusion, he has no choice but to continue the investigation and expose the truth, but as the story breaks, things become increasingly dangerous for him and his loved ones. 

Mammon – The Complete Season One can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD Review: Inspector De Luca

14 Apr

Characterized by gritty realism, existential struggles, institutional corruption, political instability, salacious segments and heroes frequently crushed by overwhelming opposition or vanquished by the dark finger of fate, Mediterranean Noir may from a UK perspective be considered a relatively new genre. Distinct in tone and worldview, like its Nordic counterpart, the movement places society under a microscope and critiques its failings. Comprehensively surveyed in Barry Forshaw’s forthcoming book Euro Noir, British and Irish audiences are already familiar with the genre thanks to BBC Four’s screening of the TV version of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels. In literary terms, the authors Leonardo Sciascia and Jean-Claude Izzo have an enlarging English language readership. The vast panoply of authors and TV series currently gaining recognition by a new found fanbase is enlarged thanks to Arrow Films release of Inspector De Luca a series adapted from a trilogy by one of Italy’s best known contemporary crime writers, Carlo Lucarelli.

In the introduction to the Inspector De Luca novels, Lucarelli recounts an incident from his time as a doctoral student that inspired him to write the books and forsake his academic pursuits. Conducting background research for a thesis, he interviewed a former police officer with forty years active service who began his career in 1941 working for the fascist political police. Initially employed to monitor the activity of anti fascist groups before arrest, the political elite were so paranoid they subsequently engaged the services of this officer to conduct surveillance on pro fascist groups due to fears that they may be plotting to overthrow Benito Mussolini. Having conducted his duties throughout the early stages of the war without a blemish on his record he transferred into the partisan police immediately following the allies liberation of the country and served in that force for the remainder of the conflict. Following the cessation of hostilities fresh elections were held in Italy to form a new government, in this new regime the officer was tasked with monitoring and arresting his former colleagues because they were now regarded as dangerous subversives.

Coupling his personal fascination with the latter stages of Italy’s fascist regime and the testimony given during the interview with this former officer, Lucarelli considered how an individual could be so wedded to the concept of policing he would carry out instructions without question irrespective of the political implications or any sense of discontinuity at having to arrest individuals (sometimes former colleagues) for engaging in activities which were previously lawful. Spurred on by the fertile territory he had inadvertently stumbled upon Lucarelli abandoned his thesis and wrote the the Inspector De Luca trilogy; Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche.

Produced in 2008, the TV adaptation adds a prologue episode set in 1938 to introduce De Luca, his point of view, working methods, relationship to superior officers and demonstrate how ordinary citizens were effected by the ever present struggle between fascism and the leftist groups who sought to topple the regime. Across ten years, in four episodes, De Luca’s pursuit of truth and justice across Bologna and the Adriatic coast frequently places him in trouble with whoever happens to be ruling at that moment. Steadfastly refusing to bend to suit the will of those seeking to quell an investigation, he dogmatically pursues a case despite incidents when it might be more prudent to take a less direct approach or to withdraw. First and foremost a police officer, De Luca is not a political realist or an apologist for any cause, for him the law is all that matters and he has a sworn duty to uphold it no matter what the personal cost may be.

The addition of an original introductory episode to complement the three adapted from Lucarelli’s novels creates a balance in terms of the series’ structure. Translating the novelist’s work to screen with due respect for the source material, the creative team have masterfully brought to life a well written trilogy with such insight and reverence it is impossible to detect a stylistic shift in the “new” prelude. The first two episodes are set during Mussolini’s reign and the subsequent instalments take place in a period when recriminations sat alongside reconstruction. Throughout one of the must tumultuous periods in modern European history the geographical, economic, social, and political turmoil is integral to communicating the series’ fictional milieux. The core theme of justice needing to be maintained in difficult times ensures that despite being a period drama, the series’ central message resonates.

In the newly written opener, An Unauthorized Investigation, the body of a sex worker is found washed up on the beach close to Mussolini’s summer home. Fearful of the consequences should the leader’s holiday be disturbed, the authorities demand that the case be solved swiftly. De Luca’s methods clash with his superiors when he starts investigating some of Mussolini’s acquaintances.

The second episode, based on the first book, Carte Blance, sees De Luca fall under the watchful eye of the fascist elite when he is placed in charge of trying to apprehend the murderer of a wealthy bachelor. At this stage in the war the Italian government was co-operating with Nazis and the palpable paranoia felt throughout this edition is accentuated as it becomes apparent that allied forces may storm the area at at any moment.

A dramatic change in tone throughout The Damned Season and its follow-up Via Della Oche demonstrates De Luca’s descent from trusted public official to despised collaborationist who must pose as a partisan. Unable to stand down from his duty, De Luca’s stubborn refusal to bend with the wind and seek an alternate lifestyle is no longer a virtue.

A turbulent era is brought to life with brio in a series blessed with intricately researched historical detail, sympathetic cinematography, and scripts that elevate the admittedly excellent source material to the level of near greatness. Recommended.

Inspector De Luca can be ordered from Amazon:

Euro Noir by Barry Forshaw is available from Amazon and all major book retailers:


Leigh Russell – Blog Tour

2 Apr

Leigh Russell’s latest book Fatal Act, the sixth DI Geraldine Steel mystery will be published by No Exit Press on the 29th May 2014. I’ve been a huge fan of Leigh Russell’s novels since a friend pressed a copy of her first book Cut Short into my hands and said that I would enjoy this strong new voice in British crime fiction. I am honoured to host the penultimate date of her first ever UK blog tour.

Leigh graciously took time out of her schedule to answer some of my questions about the relationship between literary crime fiction and its small screen counterpart.

* Is the present trend for increased female representation in TV cop series impacting on the writing/publishing process?

This is a hard question to answer, because much of the writing process operates on an unconscious level. Television may have increased readers’ appetites for fast moving, episodic narrative. Certainly many contemporary books have very short chapters to create an effect that events are happening in different places simultaneously, very much as some television works in very short scenes to give that impression. My own writing might have been influenced by television to produce this kind of structure because I write very short chapters, in an attempt to show what different characters are doing at the same time. Although I didn’t deliberately do this to be televisual, it would be a mistake to think authors can escape the influence of television altogether. Even an author who never watches television would be aware of readers’ changing tastes.

In the same way that television influences the contemporary fiction writer, the popularity of female television detectives must be having an impact on the industry as a whole. Publishers are naturally, and rightly, keen to exploit current trends, and female detectives are clearly very popular. But while there are increasing numbers of series featuring female detectives, more male detectives are appearing on our screens as well. So I suspect the impact on the writing and publishing process has more to do with the popularity of crime fiction as a genre, regardless of the gender of the detective.

* Are TV producers drawing from an already existing literary trend or are book writers emulating their small screen counterparts?

That’s a really interesting question. Where do these trends in fiction originate? If it was possible to predict success, Harry Potter would never have been rejected by a bevy of publishers reluctant to take on such an original manuscript. There are hundreds of examples of bestselling authors who struggled to get into print at all because publishers like to ‘play it safe’. This is understandable. They are investing a lot of money in producing a new book, and need to feel confident they are at least in with a chance of seeing a return on their money. When I signed my first three book deal in the UK, my publisher recommended researching police procedure. ‘It’s what readers want,’ they said. At that time, Jane Tennison was popular, and everyone was keen to tap into that trend. Now we’re told readers are no longer interested in police procedure. They want psychological thrillers. But who dictates these fashions? Is it the readers, the publishers, television – or even, dare I say it, authors themselves?

Like publishers, television broadcasters are all looking for the next big hit. They might promote a particular series but viewers, like readers, vote with their feet. The last thing any television broadcaster wants is an expensive failure. Ironically, murder stories are ‘safe’, so it looks as though detective series will be with us for a long time. And that means we’ll be seeing more female detectives on our screens. Changes in crime fiction, to some extent, reflect what is happening in society. With around 30% of senior police posts now held by female officers, the expansion of the female detective on television was inevitable. But whether the television producers or publishers tapped into the current interest in female detectives first is difficult to unpick, as each responds to the successes of the other.

* Do you feel that authors may be thinking about the sale of film and TV rights when drafting a manuscript?

Any author who is earning a living from writing fiction would surely love to see their characters on the small screen. Apart from the kudos and thrill, it offers a whole new and quite generous income stream, for very little time and effort. The work of writing the book has already been done. Even so, I can’t imagine any author seriously considering the elusive the sale of television and film rights when writing a book, because the chances of seeing a book televised are very slim. When I’m writing I might think about my readers, what to tell them and what to keep hidden, and what their expectations might be. Engaging readers must be the priority for any writer. I suspect any author would say that when they’re writing they’re thinking about their readers rather than possible television or film deals. But I don’t suppose any author would complain if they were offered the chance to see their creation on television!


Fatal Act

The Sixth and Latest DI Geraldine Steel Mystery

A glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash. Returning for her sixth case, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is baffled as the driver of the second vehicle miraculously survives – and vanishes. Another young actress is murdered and, once again, the killer mysteriously disappears. Geraldine unwittingly risks her sergeant’s life in their struggle to track down a serial killer who leaves no clues.


All she wanted to do now was get home safely. She drove slowly, looking out for a side road she could turn into. With luck she could slip away before her pursuer realised what she was doing. She passed a turning on the right, displaying a no entry sign. She braked abruptly. Her phone flew off the passenger seat. The van slowed down behind her. Worn out and stressed, she couldn’t even remember why she had been so angry with Piers. It had been a stupid argument in the first place. She wished she was back at home, away from the road at night and its wildness. Leaning forward to retrieve her phone from the floor, she punched Piers’ speed dial key. His phone rang, but there was no answer. She glanced in her mirror and glimpsed the other driver, his face a black mask in the darkness.


Genre: Mystery & Detective; Women Sleuths; Suspense; Crime

Published by: No Exit Press
Publication Date: 29th May 2014
Number of Pages: 320pp
ISBN: 978-1-84344-204-2
Series: DI Geraldine Steel #6; Stand Alone


Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent, gaining a Masters degree in English. For many years a secondary school English teacher, she is a creative writing tutor for adults. She is married, has two daughters, and lives in North West London. Her first novel, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award in 2010. This was followed by Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead and Fatal Act, in the Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel series. Cold Sacrifice is the first title in a spin off series featuring Geraldine Steel’s sergeant, Ian Peterson.




Stop Dead by Leigh Russell has been nominated for 
The People’s Book Prize
Do please take a couple of moments to visit thisPeople’s Book Prize link and cast your vote in support.

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell
Blog Tour 2014!



DVD Review: Klown

29 Mar

In his last headlining movie Sacha Baron Cohen parodied Muammar Gaddafi, once again looking to news headlines for inspiration he is currently developing a film inspired by Hong Kong billionaire Cecil Chao’s $65 million reward to any man who could successfully persuade his gay daughter to marry him. Cohen’s production company Four by Two Films is nurturing the project under the stewardship of Paramount Pictures. According to reports in Variety after seeing Danish comedy Klown the comic actor best known for playing Borat flew to Denmark and hired screenwriters and stars Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam to script the forthcoming film.

A spin off from a highly successful TV series that ran for four years, Klown is an eccentric, bawdy, and quixotic comedy which delights in breaking taboos. One of the most successful films at the Danish box office, its record breaking domestic run is believed to have generated the equivalent of twelve million US dollars. Frequently compared by fans to Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Hangover, the cult appeal of this movie has not gone unnoticed, after a run on the American festival circuit Warner Brothers bought the rights to remake it and commissioned Danny McBride (Kung Fu Panda 2) to write a screenplay.

Frank (Frank Hvam) learns that his wife has been keeping her pregnancy secret because of doubts about his abilities to be a stable father. A hapless loser constantly being manipulated by the self-serving and borderline Machiavellian, Casper (Casper Christensen). Ineptness is contrasted with extreme self confidence in a mismatched friendship.

Frank’s behaviour at home confirms his wife’s worst fears and she is contemplating booking a termination. Ejaculating in his mother-in-law face and leaving a child alone in a property whilst it is being burgled are not the actions of a dutiful parent.

Determined to prove her wrong he takes 12 year old nephew Bo (Marcus Jazz Petersen) on a canoe trip to the annoyance of best friend Casper ( Casper Christensen) who is concerned that his carefully planned libidinous weekend is about to be sabotaged. Lurching from one misadventure to another, the trio travail the waterways in search of an exclusive brothel but along the way are forced to a take a multitude of unexpected detours. Against a backdrop of outlandish and occasionally catastrophic incidents Frank tries to form a meaningful bond with Bo and learn what it means to be responsible for a child’s welfare.


Irreverent, outrageous and extreme, Klown will tickle your funny bone and then do something obscene to it.


Klown can be ordered from Amazon:


Blu-ray Review: Jeune & Jolie

23 Mar

In recent decades the dominant image of sex work within movies has been perpetuated by 1990 rom-com Pretty Woman. Earlier more cautionary narratives (Taxi Driver, Working Girls) were superseded within the popular consciousness by an overtly sentimentalized story of an improbable romance between escort and client. With support from a mainstream studio, canny marketing, and a soundtrack album that became one of that year’s best-selling titles this sanitized and deeply problematic film enjoyed a highly profitable run at the box office, was nominated in several categories by the BAFTA, Golden Globes and at the Academy Awards Julia Roberts won an Oscar for Best Actress. In the years since its release British and American films and television have increasingly featured a myriad of fictionalised prostitution chronicles that do not reference the inherent dangers associated with this industry and present character interplay which is an all too obvious riff on the relationship between Pretty Woman‘s core protagonists, True Romance and Shameless are possibly the most instantly recognizable examples of this trend. More recently, the ITV network has broadcast an adaptation of Brooke Magnanti’s blog and confessional memoirs , The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, that was criticised by feminists for glamourising the industry and not placing sufficient emphasis on the risks routinely faced by sex workers.

Perhaps due to cultural distinctness or differences in funding mechanisms, contemporary and historical European productions have been less reluctant to shy away from documenting potential endangerment to the self and family as a consequence of prostitution. From the period piece Maison Close, through to Belle de Jour and Christiane F – Wir Kinder vom Banhof Zoo the probable ramifications of a career in this industry have been explored without undue moralizing, mawkishness or melodrama. Continuing in the continent’s tradition of using fictional film to scrutinize this highly contentious issue without recourse to histrionics, François Ozon’s most recent motion picture Jeune & Jolie offers an open narrative with no firm conclusions and a requirement on the audience’s part to fill in the all important gaps in character arcs.

A pivotal figure in the history of French cinema, Bunuel’s influence looms large throughout Jeune & Jolie in terms of performances, visual style, and casting decisions. Inevitable comparisons to his film Belle de Jour are not without justification. In this more permissive age it is impossible to recreate the shock experienced by 1960s cinema audiences seeing Catherine Deneuve play a frustrated housewife who is only able to find excitement and fulfilment when she begins a double life as an escort in a discreet brothel. To engender an emotional response Ozon presents a teenage rite of passage as descent into hell over a twelve month period. Bunuel’s archetype of an impassive figure upon which characters and viewers are able to project their sexual desires is recalled in a movie that features voyeurism, objectification and gratification as constant themes.

During a family holiday seventeen year old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) loses her virginity to a German tourist (Lucas Prisor). A joyless experience, she swiftly distances herself from the boy despite his having already been welcomed by her family. Returning home she embarks on a double life, student and in the afternoons as “Lea” a high class escort entertaining clients in luxury hotels. Segmented into four seasons, each bookended by a Francois Hardy song, the film’s high culture aspirations are telegraphed by the use of a Rimbaud poem.

Through judicious use of subjective shots and mirrors the director continuously plays with theories of the male gaze in cinema. The emotive subject of teenage prostitution is treated as an intellectual exercise, no explicit statement on this issue is made by the narrative. Gaps in story information compound the feeling that the viewer is required to impose their own interpretations onto the film’s canvas.

An intriguing performance from Marine Vacth transcends any scripting problems. Her character’s motives are unknown and whilst Ozon may have intended to be deliberately obscure, the focus on consequences without the all important knowledge of how and why Isabelle turned to prostitution dilutes the screenplay’s highly stirring arguments.

During casting sessions Catherine Deneuve was considered for a key role but conscious of the possibility that parallels to Belle de Jour might become too obvious an alternative choice was made, Charlotte Ramping whose stately elegance and restrained mournful reading kick-starts the film’s shift into a totally unexpected direction.

Juene &  Jolie can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD Review: Salamander – The Complete Season One

17 Mar

The success of BBC Four’s Saturday evening subtitled drama slot has exceeded all expectations. Healthy viewing figures have been complimented by effusive critical notices in the mainstream press. Resisting temptation to rest on its laurels, the station’s solution to the problem of how to fill a The Bridge shaped hole in its schedules is to expand its palate and introduce British viewers to series from a broader selection of countries. The future of Nordic Noir is assured, several intriguing shows are scheduled for later in the year and as viewer loyalty is seemingly guaranteed the network is confident it can offer up a selection of fresh voices without alienating the core fanbase.

Proving that BBC Four has a long term strategy in place, news of Salamander‘s acquisition was first revealed to the press in May 2013, almost a full year before UK transmission. Hot on the heels of the première screening on the Belgian public broadcasting station Eén the BBC’s acquisition team recognised that here was a series which would sit comfortably within the newly expanded parameters of the now traditional subtitled drama slot. Anticipating, and to a certain extent initiating, changes to the zeitgeist the series arrived as crime fiction from the continent is in the ascendant. Oldcastle Books will be publishing Euro Noir, a roadmap to continental crime fiction by Barry Forshaw and Arrow Films has created a Noir sub-label dedicated to releasing the very best contemporary and archive slices of crime thriller TV series.

With over 2.3 million iPlayer requests and an average 4.0 audience share BBC Four’s faith in Belgian conspiracy thriller Salamander has been comfortably rewarded. A ratings smash in its homeland, published figures show that the series was watched by 56% of the available audience and set new records for timeshifting.

Unashamedly pan-Atlantic in tone, the programme was deliberately written to attract the widest possible domestic audience with one eye on the export market. As a court reporter for the Antwerp Gazette series creator Ward Hulselmans became intimately familiar with criminality, its causes, and implications for the wider fabric of a community. Since 1990 he has worked exclusively in television, employing the many years spent documenting cases to good effect, ensuring no matter how implausible a plot point may initially appear to be it is thoroughly grounded in currently existing trends of lawless behaviour.

Secrets powerful enough to bring down an entire country are at risk of being exposed after a gang breaks into a bank vault and targets sixty six safes containing documents belonging to the great and the good. Instantly recognizing the significance of what the robbery represents, the bank’s owner, Raymond Jonkhere (Mike Verdrengh) wants to keep knowledge of the theft a closely guarded secret. Protecting the institution’s reputation and the nation’s ruling elite is paramount.

Acting on a tip off from an informer, implacable and individualistic detective Paul Geradi (Filip Peeters) inadvertently stumbles onto a case that his own department wants to shut down. Bloody minded in his approach to work, obstacles thrown at him are met with equal and opposing force. As the owners of safety deposit boxes begin to vanish, commit suicide, or unexpectedly resign from senior positions Gerardi realizes that he may be the only person able to investigate who staged the heist, and why only sixty six boxes were opened.

As the case progresses it becomes apparent that the upper echelons of society are tainted the stench of corruption. A secret organisation with its roots in the resistance movement is acting as a shadow government, manoeuvring ministers into key posts, facilitating business deals, and protecting members of the royal family. Gerardi’s dogged determination to uncover the truth behind ‘Salamander’ sets him on a collision course with his colleagues and has tragic personal consequences…

Masculinity is placed centre stage, in stark contrast to Nordic series which have placed great emphasis on the sanctity of femininity. With his super-strong hair gel, immaculate beard and crease free Levis, Gerardi is simultaneously a European Jack Bauer and accidental hero archetype. Thrust into a world of murky dealings, ambiguous figures, and betrayal he refuses to walk away even when it would be in his best interests to do so and therein lies the secret of his Achilles heel. Obsession about work may quite literally prove to be a fatal flaw…

High concept, thoroughly modern and yet reassuringly familiar Salamander is an energetic show which mines current fears about the banking sector and a lack of transparency in governance alongside anxieties that have been part and parcel of the modern (or post-modern) Belgian condition since the end of World War II, most notably how to reconcile collaborationist activity within the national consciousness, institutional abuse, and possible erosion of national sovereignty.

Generic tropes are employed in a knowing fashion. A conspiracy thriller filtered through the prism of Hitchockian themes with the narrative structure of a Saturday morning cliffhanger serial, Salamander deliberately takes a leisurely pace at first before igniting and then hurtles towards the conclusion at breakneck speed, hitting the viewer with a barrage of stunning set pieces and plot reveals.

Salamander: The Complete Season One can be ordered from Amazon:


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