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A Private Venus: A Duca Lamberti Noir…

A Private Venus: A Duca Lamberti Noir (Melville International Crime)

by Howard Curtis

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Recently added byDaveWilde, eppish



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Giorgio Scerbanenco is considered to be the godfather of Italian noir, not that any of us here in the States ever knew there was such a thing as Italian noir. The prize that honors each years top Italian crime novel is named after Scerbanenco. Born in Kiev and having grown up in Rome and Milan, he became a successful writer with his creation of Dr. Duca Lamberti, a doctor who solves mysteries. In the publisher's blurb, A Private Venus is described as the beginning of Italian noir and a new type of novel, exploring a desperate underside of Italian society. Many of his books have been turned into Italian movies and television shows, including the Dr. Lamberti series.

Reading this novel reminded me of the first section of Ariel S. Winter's Twenty-Year Death and that is because Winter patterned his book after the writing of Georges Simenon, another European mystery writer. This book has a similar pacing and a spirit in it that is decidedly European.

A Private Venus was originally written in 1966 and has now been translated into English by Howard Curtis. It is the first book in a series of four (a quartet as it is generally referred to) about Dr. Duca Lamberti, a disgraced doctor who served three years in prison and lost his medical license after administering euthanasia to an elderly woman who welcomed the exit from this world. There are four books in this series: A Private Venus, Betrayors of All (or Traitors of All), The Boys of the Massacre, and Milan Murders.

In A Private Venus, through a connection, only days out of prison, Duca has managed to obtain work: He has been assigned to cure Pietro Auseri's son, Davide, of his alcoholic state. The twenty-two year old Davide does nothing but sit in the villa and drink, falling into an alcoholic stupor and awakening three times each day. He also speeds down the mountainside in his Itailan sportscar, frequenting the bars and nightclubs. There is something troubling him, something at the root of his misery, but his father, who is distant from him, can't pierce his shell and get at it. Duca has his hands full with Davide, first bringing loose women back to the villa to test if Davide is interested, then nursing him back to health after a suicide attempt.

Davide, though, as long suspected, has a terrible secret, one partially revealed to the reader in the mysterious opening chapter. A year earlier, he had an intimate affair one day with a woman and left her at the side of the road after their rendezvous, only to find out afterwards that her body was found in that very spot, wrists slit. The woman was crazy. He had picked her up near a taxi stand and she had been looking for a man, any man, to give her money. She had begged him over and over to take her away from Milan for three months, but to do it right away or else she would kill herself. He had gotten frustrated and pulled over and ordered her out of the car. And, the next day, she was dead.
Duca investigates and determines that it was not suicide, but murder and that he can best help Davide by solving the murder. Why does he continue to help this kid? Because otherwise the kid will eventually slit his wrists out of guilt and then Duca will be haunted.

Duca explains that there are two kinds of people, those who are sensitive and those with hearts of stone. There are men who can kill their whole family and then in prison calmly ask for a crossword puzzle. There are other men who have to be admitted to the psych ward because they left a window open and the cat fell out. Duca later explains that there are men who break the rules but are protected by lawyers and he doesn't like such frauds.

One of the more interesting characters in the story is Livia, a friend of the dead girl Alberta. Livia talks in Kantian absolutes. Duca is her hero because he stood up for euthanasia. Livia got into prostitution as a social experiment, not to make a living.

Later in the book, the author takes pains to point out how under the surface of Milanese society, everything was going wrong. There were stabbings and gang fights but everyone went on with their lives as if they were seated at a big table and being served a great feast. "For them, these stories belonged to a Fourth Dimension, devised by an Einstein of crime, who was even more incomprehensible than the Einstein of physics." Wow! Who writes like this? It's as if the author is inviting the reader to scratch the surface and see the whole hidden world underneath polite cafe society where call girls roam street corners, photographers take dirty pictures, people are threatened, and people are slaughtered with their deaths staged as suicides. ( )
  DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
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