The Deadly Cost of Seeking the Truth: A Cold Flame by Aidan Conway
19 July, 2018 was the 26th anniversary of the murder of the anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino at the hands of Cosa Nostra.
As I watched the usual TV documentaries, listening to the predictable rhetoric of politicians, and pondering the many unanswered questions about the role of the state in his murder, and that of his friend and colleague Giovanni Falcone, I began reflecting on the possible influence of these real, heroic, courageous men on the creation of my own fictional heroes Rossi and Carrara and on the nature of crime detection in Italy.
A Cold Flame, the follow up to A Known Evil, begins with DIs Rossi and Carrara staring into the charred remains of a burnt-out flat in which five illegal immigrants have lost their lives. Simple hate crime, the work of racist thugs, or is there more?
There’s always more in this Italy where the story behind the story, intrigue, and everyday corruption provide ample material for any crime or thriller writer to get their teeth into.
In Italy, justice and crime fighting can also seem relatively complex matters. For one, there are three police forces, sometimes in conflict with each other, and each with their own traditions, role, and expertise. Unlike in some other countries, magistrates too play a key role, overseeing and coordinating criminal investigations and conducting questioning of suspects.
Of course, the police investigate and, in many cases, a magistrate can and does delegate much of the responsibility to experienced officers, depending on an individual magistrate’s approach. In the 1970s and 80s, when investigators – police or magistrates – got too close to uncovering organised crimes, they were often systematically and ruthlessly assassinated, their secrets and discoveries often dying with them. Conveniently for some.
One problem then was that these men were often working alone, independently of their colleagues in a nearby or neighbouring jurisdiction and certainly not having regular contact or direct systematic collaboration with their overseas opposite numbers in matters of transnational crime.
Falcone and Borsellino along with other important figures in the judiciary came up with the idea of pooling ideas, working together rather than in separate regions or offices spread across the country. The ‘mafia pool’ was born and their teamwork and collaboration and mutual support allowed them to operate highly efficiently while also eliminating or minimising the risk of infiltration or obstruction. It also meant that if one of them were killed, the others could continue the investigation.
Today the concept of a specialised team is commonplace, but at the time, in Italy, it was groundbreaking. Until then, troublesome judges working alone could be moved from one city to another at the stroke of a pen, their investigations if not scuppered then hobbled, delayed, frustrated. Inefficient or inexperienced operatives could be parachuted in to put a spanner in the works. Politicians and political appointees could, in a word, hamper investigations. The problem for the pool judges was that maybe their system worked too well for some people’s liking.
I am sure there must have been something of the team spirit of Falcone and Borsellino behind my creation of Rossi and Carrara and the fictional Rome Serious Crime Squad or RSCS. In terms of character, they are very different men, as Falcone and Borsellino were. Borsellino was a churchgoer, a right-leaning conservative. Falcone was left-wing, a non-believer. Carrara is a pragmatist, practical and driven, seeing the world in black and white. Rossi is moved more by instinct and feeling; he is thoughtful, questioning and always probing in the greyer areas. Carrara’s glittering career in anti-mafia also gives him the sang froid and grit to complement Rossi’s intuitions and intellect and the year he spent studying for the priesthood.
In terms of their similarities, neither of them is morally ambiguous; they are honest, full-stop. Above all, like Falcone and Borsellino, they are also close friends and working at the same level. Rossi invariably takes the lead, as a creative midfielder might in a football match, but they are not the typical, hierarchical inspector and sergeant duo.
Many still ask today whether Falcone and Borsellino uncovered a secret deal between Cosa Nostra and the state and whether that was their undoing. And who was the plainclothes agent seen at the scene of the car bomb that killed Borsellino? What became of the famous red diary he carried at all times and which contained notes on his most sensitive investigations? And what was he getting at with his coded references to a mysterious female agent whose identity has never been revealed? There’s something there that may have a familiar ring to readers of A Known Evil.
And let’s not forget the journalists. In 2017, according to Reporters Sans Frontières, nearly 200 Italian journalists required police protection, the most famous being the author of Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano, living in a ring of steel since 2006. In some ways, he is the inspiration for the character of the investigative journalist Dario Iannelli, Rossi’s friend and confidante. In A Cold Flame, as Rome becomes the theatre for brutal hate crimes and politically inspired violence, Iannelli formulates his own cynical and brilliant insights as the line dividing criminals from the state begins to blur. He too, like Falcone and Borsellino, could be said to have been doing his job too well and enjoys the constant company of an armed escort.
They haven’t got to him yet but he, like us, knows they never forget.
(c) Aidan Conway
Aidan Conway was born in Birmingham to Irish Parents and has been living in Italy since 2001. He holds an MA in Irish Writing from Queen’s University Belfast and has been a bookseller, a proofreader, a language consultant, as well as a freelance teacher, translator, and editor for the United Nations FAO. He is currently an assistant university lecturer in Rome, where he lives with his family. A Cold Flame is his second novel.
About A Cold Flame:
Play with fire and you get burned…
A gripping crime thriller, from a new star in British crime fiction. Perfect for fans of Ian Rankin.
Five men burnt alive.
In the crippling heat of August in Rome, a flat goes up in flames, the doors sealed from the outside. Five illegal immigrants are trapped and burnt alive – their charred bodies barely distinguishable amidst the debris.
One man cut into pieces.
When Detective Inspectors Rossi and Carrara begin to investigate, a terror organisation shakes the city to its foundations. Then a priest is found murdered and mutilated post-mortem – his injuries almost satanic in their ferocity.
One city on the edge of ruin.
Rome is hurtling towards disaster. A horrifying pattern of violence is beginning to emerge, with a ruthless killer overseeing its design. But can Rossi and Carrara stop him before all those in his path are reduced to ashes?
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