Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Dogs of Rome: a Conor Fitzgerald Novel

"He's got a garage," said Blume.  "Jesus, I'd give my right arm to have one of those."   The speaker is Alec Blume, an American by birth and now, in his 40s, Chief Commissioner of Rome's police department--a high-level detective.  Earnest, determined, smart, opinionated--"I hate Sordi.  Hate his movies, hate his voice.  All that Romanaccio shit"--somewhat arrogant and ethical to a fault, Blume is at the center of Conor Fitzgerald's entertaining new (2010) crime novel, The Dogs of Rome.  The title refers not to the tiny, yappy dogs that most Romans favor, but to larger beasts trained to be nasty for the dog fights that all too many Romans enjoy and which take place, in the novel, in an abandoned warehouse off the Via della Magliana.  (In August 2001, Rome's real police discovered 7 dogs, intended for fighting, in a nomad camp off the Via della Magliana.)  Blume detests dogs, but he ends up with one--a Cane Corso, described as a dog the Romans used in battle. 

A Cane Corso.  Man's best
friend--except when he's not.
Novels are always partly invented, and that may be the case with several of Fitzgerald's references.  I could find no evidence of a Rome restaurant with the name "Mattatoio Cinque" ("Slaughterhouse 5") nor does the internet confirm the existence of De Pedris, a shop that serves exquisite pastry.  But Fitzgerald--who lives in Rome--knows his geography, and readers hungering for Rome and its environs will find in these pages references to (and comments about) the familiar (EUR), obscure (Borgata Fideni--to the north) and those in between (Corviale).  One transforming scene takes place in the quartiere of Marconi, along Via Oderisi da Gubbio, Viale Marconi, and Piazza della Radio, the latter accurately noted as a great place to park a car for the Porta Portese Sunday market.  Another dramatic scene plays out in the area between Via La Spezia, where Blume resides, and the Basilica of San Giovanni.  Blume's parents are buried in the not-too-distant Verano cemetery.  

Tourists who want to think Rome is just one gelateria after another may find distasteful Fitzgerald's conclusion that what is "eternal" about the city is its organized crime and the corruption that ripples through politics and the police force.  "For a quarter of a century," one of his characters opines, "the police have not disturbed the criminal status quo in the districts of Magliana, Tufello, Ostia, Corviale, Laurentino 38, Tor Bella Monaca, Tor de' Schiavi, Pietralata, Casalbruciato, and Centocelli."  In a previous post, we described Centocelli as charming.  We would not--and did not--say that about Corviale, though we were fascinated by the mammoth 1970s housing project by that name.  We no longer stroll, as we did only a few years ago, in the projects of Magliana. 

This writer is no great fan of detective novels; he's probably read five in a lifetime.  But I was very much taken with Dogs of Rome.  Blume is a worthy protagonist, and Fitzgerald's story has pace and drama.  Most important, there's just enough about Rome and Romans.  Of one of his characters, Fitzgerald muses:  "He considered going carefully...but there was no point.  No policeman in Rome ever pulled anyone over for reckless driving.  They considered it demeaning."  Coming from a killer, but right on. Bill

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