Almost Blue is an Italian giallo novel and, as far as I’m aware, one of the few to have been translated into English (although the blurb on the back refers to its as “noir”). The author is Carlo Lucarelli, who is probably known to most readers of this site as one of the co-writers of Dario Argento’s giallo Non Ho Sonno. Almost Blue was itself turned into a film, in 2000, by Alex Infascelli, and it was in that form that I was first introduced to it. Reading the book, therefore, has been an interesting experience.
The premise is a pretty intriguing one. A serial killer is doing the rounds in Bologna, killing students and assuming their identities. His modus operandi leads to him being given the nickname of “the Iguana”, and, fairly quickly, he is identified as Alessio Crotti, an orphan who grew up in a convent and has developed severe psychological problems. The only problem is that, as he continually changes his identity, any description of him is rendered useless as soon as he kills again (which he does with alarming frequency). By chance, a telephone conversation between him and an intended victim is picked up by Simone, a blind teenager who spends his life in his bedroom, listening in on phone conversations on his computer. Grazia Negro, a young detective brought in from Rome to crack the case, believes that Simone is the key… but can he lead her to the Iguana before he kills again?
Had this been written back in the 70s, it would probably have been given a deliciously convoluted animal title: then again, we already have a giallo film whose title involves (somewhat bafflingly) an iguana.
At less than 170 pages, it’s a very short book, and one that I could imagine many people blazing through in one sitting. I tend to read at a somewhat slower pace, however, as I rarely sit down with a book for an extended period (reading, for me, tends to be restricted to the three Bs: bed, the bus and the bog), but I finished it in a couple of days, which is fast by my standards. I prefer to read for a bit and then soak up the atmosphere of what I’ve read - and it is a very atmospheric book, contrasting the emphasis on sound when told from the blind Simone’s perspective with the killer’s emphasis on sight. It also transpires that the film is very faithful to its literary origins: with few exceptions, if a scene occurs in the book, it is also in the film, and hits all of the same main plot points.
Where the two differ, however, is in the foregrounding of the sounds heard by Simone. This isn’t entirely surprising, given that, as a visual medium, it’s hard to convey blindness in a film, so one can’t really complain too much about this, but what is regrettable is that, as a result, the film focuses a lot more attention on Grazia, turning the plot into a more typical detective thriller. This isn’t done by altering the narrative as such, but rather by drawing out her scenes for longer. It’s not that she isn’t an interesting character (she is, and sympathetic too) but even she loses something in the adaptation - her struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated environment. In the novel, this is a major point, because the fact that Simone can’t see is what attracts her to him so much, as this means he doesn’t make judgements about her based on her appearance. In the film, it appears that she makes a habit of banging her witnesses.
Overall, I’d recommend Almost Blue. It’s a fast, engaging read, and the English translation is very evocative (I’m assuming the Italian original is similar, if not better). The subtitle on the cover, “An Inspector Negro Novel”, suggests that this is part of a series, and I certainly intend to seek out further instalments.