When I first got this book, I thought it was going to be a story about organized crime in Rome. And it is. I thought it was going to be about murder. And it is. I thought it was going to be about how the police struggle with corruption from within and powerful forces from without making investigations more difficult. And it is. It’s all those things, but it also goes beyond those things in surprising and delightful ways.
The first book in what appears to be a planned series about the investigations of its protagonist, Commissario Alec Blume, The Dogs of Rome is also an impressive debut into fiction by the author, Conor Fitzgerald. I’ll be honest — I didn’t expect to enjoy it a whole lot; new author, a genre I’m not well-read in, takes place in a country that I don’t have an inordinate amount of interest in. It had a lot of marks against it.
Then I read the first chapter. Oh, my God, the first chapter. Fitzgerald puts his technical skill to amazing work here; the words describe a fairly pivotal event with such realism that I was left without breath for a couple of seconds by the time I finished reading it. It was superbly written, and, if I could, I would pay him to write a book full of little vignettes just like this first section.
The rest of the book does not disappoint. It doesn’t quite come to the level of the opening, but it’s finely crafted. We follow Blume through the investigation of one murder, which turns into two murders, which turns into … well, you get the idea. Fitzgerald brings the reader into the world of Roman law enforcement, which means that he also has to bring us into Italian politics, organized crime, and international diplomacy. It’s interesting to watch Blume, an American, try to both navigate the subtleties of communication that Italians employ while also staying true to his straightforward, blunt style.
Rome in this book provides us with a series of crimes that brings us into contact with a wide variety of people: a national representative, the leader of an organized crime ring, a shifty geek, corrupt law enforcement workers, an American legat working for the FBI, and a man running a dog-fighting ring. I love the variation Fitzgerald is able to give the characters; they feel both firmly settled in established character types, yet fresh and innovative enough to cause the story to rise above the average thriller.
A couple of small things were a bit distracting to me. The first was Fitzgerald’s rush to introduce the reader to the entire cast of law enforcement characters within the book. Many were presented before they actually made a personal appearance. This caused me to lose track of who was who, since I had too many names to keep track of. It got straightened out fairly quickly, but was something that could have been easily avoided.
The other problem is truly minor: some of Fitzgerald’s information about World of Warcraft was factually incorrect. Yes, I’m a dork. I know it won’t bother most people, who are not dorks. But the top level in WoW currently is eighty, not sixty. It very well may have been sixty when he started writing the book; that was the top level for a while. Not now, though, and that’s where Fitzgerald or a fact-checker could have easily have won points with the dork faction for getting the technical aspects of their game right, but failed to do so.
Overall, I’d say that The Dogs of Rome is far from being a dog itself. It is a sharp tale, told in a direct manner, with good characters, an exciting plot, and enough going on to keep the reader engaged until the end.