Saturday, March 12, 2016

Game for Five (A Bar Lume Mystery)Game for Five by Marco Malvaldi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Blessed are the simple, he thought, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven and police stations on earth."

Marco Malvaldi's Game for Five (2007) is the first book in the Bar Lume mystery series that features Massimo the barman, a quartet of "sprightly old-timers" - an octogenarian and three septuagenarians - and a slow-witted police inspector. The plot takes place in a fictional little town of Pineta on the Italian coast, near Pisa. As far as I know, three books in the series have been translated into English so far, but I will not be looking for the other two entries. Game for Five is quite a mediocre book: the plot is far from interesting and the novel does not offer much in the literary sense. It has been published by Europa Editions in their World Noir series, which is hard to understand as there is absolutely nothing noir about the book; if anything, it could be categorized as a humorous mystery novel.

A drunken teenager finds a young woman's body stuffed in a trash can and when the police do not believe him, Massimo has to confirm and report the murder. The police begin their investigation, but because of their utter incompetence solving the case is up to Massimo, the four geezers, and other town locals. The case is discussed on a 24-hour basis in Bar Lume. The town is so small that the residents know all details of the case and information about new developments is instantaneously propagated to everyone. The four elderly sleuths, whose primary occupation is "sticking their noses into other people's businesses", provide occasionally funny diversions from the criminal plot.

This short book is quite a nice, fast, and undemanding read, but there is nothing particularly interesting or memorable about it. One can find several funny lines - for example, "her unsteady, uncoordinated gait [...], like a car with manual gears driven by an American" - but also some awkward and strained passages. The novel does not convey much sense of place of Italian seaside, other than the generically Italian cult of espresso and cappuccino. There is some weirdness in the novel: for instance, it is hard to understand the purpose of including a half-page passage on Kurt Gödel's contributions to foundations of mathematics. For the benefit of other readers I hope that the next books in the series are more interesting.

One and three quarter stars.

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