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Between good and evil

Author: Daniele Pagani
Newspaper: The Hindu
Date: Jan 25 2016

Italian writer Piergiorgio Pulixi explains why he has given an insight into the life of an Italian cop with Jekyll and Hyde qualities in his newly released crime novel

Chief Inspector Biagio Mazzeo leads a Police Narcotics Section in the north of Italy. What sounds as a routine exercise is unusual because Mazzeo does it his own way, with his group of corrupted cops lording over the streets. Instead of acting as guardians, they take whatever they want. Hence they are rich and powerful. But something goes wrong, they choose the wrong enemy and Mazzeo ends up in a game bigger than him. A crime novel that blurs the boundaries of good and evil, “The Night of the Panthers” is written by Italian writer Piergiorgio Pulixi and was presented during the Delhi Crime Writers Festival at Oxford Book Store.

The author explains in the interview why he kept the protagonist multi dimensional.

Going through the book one feels that a character is missing, someone that the crime fiction reader expects to find – the good cop. What happened?

I did not want to write about the police force and its job. Everything started off from an article about the clamorous arrest of an entire police sub-division accused of conspiracy. This group was similar to a mafia family. It was following a charismatic leader, Chief Inspector Biagio Mazzeo. It had no informer and the group members used to cover each other. In its ten years of activity, it accumulated a consolidated fund to be used for its future. I asked myself what would have happened if no one had stopped it? How would the leader kept the group united against adversities? This story is about the way power changes and concentrates on the relation with other people. The focus of the entire narration is this group of crooked policemen and there is no space for good cops.

The leader of this group is undoubtedly a bad guy but he also shows good moral values. Did you want to show that no one is unconditionally bad?

Yes, leaving aside clinically psychopathic individuals, I believe that absolute evil does not exist. Even a mafia boss has a family and in his own way he surely loves it. As a writer, moreover, I would say that a fully evil character is not engaging, it is one-dimensional. It is much more interesting to describe all sides of personality, shifting from the brutalities that Mazzeo carries on the streets to the sweet moments with the woman he loves. He is a complicated man with his own yardstick for morality. He is strongly attached to his unit, he genuinely feels that a cop needs to clean up the streets from criminals. He likes to have his own emotional microcosm where evil has no space. Mazzeo is the perfect pawn for all those who want to fight criminality in unconventional or illegal ways. A corrupted cop can be used in suicide missions undercover with no risks. And this is exactly what happens in my book.

Judging by the recently released books we are witnessing an evolution in the way violence is portrayed; it is often very explicit. Is this change due to evolution of society?

We are surrounded by violence and its representation on television, cinema, video games. A writer knows that he must venture on the field of violence; readers are used to it. It looks like a paradox but if you write about organised crime and there is no violence, the story risks to lose verisimilitude. I feel that more than physical violence, it is psychological violence that imbues our society. It goes through all the daily impositions that we have to face in our lives like aesthetic standards, labour relations, economic models.

Do you think that crime fiction can play a role in fighting criminal organisations?

Yes but we have to do it the right way. If we keep narrating Italian mafia as how it was, the reader will think that it still kills regularly in restaurants, on the streets or puts bombs. Nowadays criminals wear business suits and often have a respectable position in financial institutions where they manage money laundering or huge investments. They are difficult to recognise because they are well integrated in our society. Mafia has evolved into what we can call a liquid criminality that deeply penetrates the legal economy. Narrating this new criminality and its dynamics is what can help. We, writers, are not bound by any legal issue and we are free to talk about criminal organisations even during official investigation. Narrative has the privilege of being faster than justice and this helps to increase awareness.