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Book review: Suburra by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo

Author: John Dugdale
Newspaper: The Times
Date: Sep 17 2017

Berlusconi Babylon might be an alternative title for Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo’s Suburra, translated by Antony Shugaar (Europa £13.99), which has already been turned into an Italian Netflix series. Set in Rome in 2011, the bunga-bunga premier’s last year in power, the novel depicts a metropolis pervaded from top to bottom by sleaze and organised crime.

Ruling its underworld is Samurai, a charismatic, cerebral neo-fascist whose web of influence extends from senators to football thugs and involves an uneasy alliance of mafiosi and family gangs. His great project of turning the rundown coastal suburb of Ostia into Italy’s Atlantic City (“Suburra” fuses “suburbio” and “Gomorra”) is about to gain political approval, but his crooked coalition is in danger of falling apart; one feral gang rebels, and the ensuing carnage spurs Marco, an incorruptible cop, to make it his mission to destroy Samurai.

The main barrier to appreciating Suburra is the translation’s prose, which is often clumsy and sometimes dreadful; get past that, though, and you’ll find a panoramic portrait of a city reminiscent of James Ellroy and Don Winslow in its mordant vision and epic scale.