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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Black Run

Antonio Manzini

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To purchase Black Run

Title: Black Run
Author: Antonio Manzini
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 254 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Black Run - US
Black Run - UK
Black Run - Canada
Piste noire - France
Der Gefrierpunkt des Blutes - Deutschland
Pista nera - Italia
Pista negra - España
  • A Rocco Schiavone Mystery
  • Italian title: Pista nera
  • Translated by Antony Shugaar

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Our Assessment:

B : rough bits, writing/style-wise, but decent police-procedural/series-starter

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail A 30/4/2015 Geoffrey Wansell
Financial Times A 15/5/2015 Barry Forshaw
El País . 28/1/2015 J.C.Galindo
La Stampa . 26/2/2013 Bruno Quaranta
Sydney Morning Herald . 12/9/2015 Anna Creer

  From the Reviews:
  • "At last a detective who’s not haunted by personal demons or soaked in booze, a man who may not be entirely honest -- indeed, you could call him corrupt as well as adulterous -- but who glories in his job of solving crimes. (...) The tale is deftly told with sharp, cynical dialogue." - Geoffrey Wansell, Daily Mail

  • "The ranks of impressive Euro Noir novelists is swelled by the gritty Antonio Manzini, whose Black Run may sport epigraphs from Schiller and Mayakovsky, but underlines its genre credentials with a superstructure of diamond-hard crime writing. (...) In an excellent translation by Antony Shugaar, this is lacerating stuff." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times

  • "Todo en Schiavone es peculiar sin ser excéntrico, es complejo sin ser artificioso. (...) Pero Schiavone es grande. Un drama de su pasado le persigue, le nubla el conocimiento, le oscurece el alma. (...) Schiavone se siente sucio cuando investiga, sucio cuando roba, sucio cuando resuelve un caso. Su compleja personalidad, las marcas del pasado, la miseria de la vida no le dejan ser feliz." - Juan Carlos Galindo, El País

  • "Corrotto e geniale, Rocco Schiavone, un eco di Dudley Smith, L. A. Confidential e dintorni. Ma laureato com’è in Giurisprudenza, essendo dotto o edotto in latino, non mancherà di trovare una sorta di pace nell’etimologia." - Bruno Quaranta, La Stampa

  • "Black Run is Italian 'crime noir' with humour." - Anna Creer, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Black Run introduces Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone, a Roman through and through -- "Everything about Rocco Schiavone was in Rome. And had been for forty-six years" -- who now finds himself in the Dolomites, in cold northern in Italy. He'd been a rising star, before -- for reasons that are only eventually explained -- he was shunted off "with a rapid and silent transfer to Val d'Aosta for disciplinary reasons". He is definitely a fish out of water there -- and even more so at the small resort of Champoluc where he investigates what turns out to be a murder, in a town where everyone knows everyone's business and/or is related.
       The gruff and rough Rocco has long been happily married, to Marina, but is first encountered in bed with another woman -- and he definitely has an eye for the ladies. He's brusque and speaks his mind, and plays favorites with his underlings -- showing no respect for the less competent. He's not particularly good at following the letter of the law in his investigations -- though everyone lets him get away with it. As it turns out, he's also a slightly bent copper, not averse to making something on the side, as in diverting a pot shipment with an old buddy of his -- but it's not stuff that involves his actual police duties, which he takes seriously and seems to be pretty good at. Still, he also can't resist occasionally lighting up "a fatty" in his office -- though he doesn't broadcast that. He makes up for all these failings by being a very, very good policeman, with an impressive track record of catching the bad guys.
       Of course, Rocco is a troubled soul, but the reasons why -- beyond his transfer, though it certainly has something to do with his abandoning Rome -- are only hinted at for much of the novel; while it's fairly easy to guess what really has him down, it's only really spelled out very late on. Still, as a consequence, as well as from his experiences on the force, one of the lessons he's learnt and passes on to one of his new underlings is:

Never let yourself get sucked in emotionally, Italo. It's a mistake. A big mistake. You lose objectivity and self-control.
       The murder being investigated turns out, eventually, to be a fairly straightforward one. A man is run over by a massive snow-grooming snowcat -- shredding him apart, which makes it difficult to first identify him, then to determine the circumstances of his death. But there are enough clues to eventually piece it all together, as Rocco does, in occasionally dramatic fashion, right down to the victim's funeral, where he makes clear who was behind it. Along with his side trip to purloin that marijuana shipment his buddy heard of, Rocco shows himself to be creative and a risk-taker -- but also that he does the right thing. (Typically, if he does something crooked -- taking the marijuana -- it is a more or less harmless drug that's involved; Manzini can't have him hijack a cocaine or heroin shipment; typically, too, there are positives coming out of his illicit actions, Rocco proving himself to be a good guy (and having something to show for it to make the authorities happy too -- a rather hard to believe trifecta of success).)
       The novel covers five days and one night, each in a separate chapter -- with Manzini getting into Rocco's mind at or near the end of a few of these, showing him to be a bit of a softy, especially regarding the love of his life, Marina. As it turns out, not everything is quite as it seems -- winning Rocco even more sympathy (from the reader) by the end, when it becomes clear what the cause of -- and how deep -- his personal hurt is.
       The sharp attitude and rapid, back and forth -- with Rocco almost invariably gruff or even rude -- doesn't always work, and Manzini struggles some to find the right tone for Rocco, but Black Run is a decent police procedural. Manzini does toy a bit much with readers about what weighs so heavily on Rocco, what he hasn't been able to get over for four years now, but it fits in reasonably well, and Rocco's overall attitude is interesting enough that one is curious about what he gets up to next: Black Run is a fine series-starter.

       Note: I rarely call out other reviews' mistakes/misreadings, but the Daily Mail's -- quoted above, and in the paperback front-matter -- is hard to ignore, since it begins: "At last a detective who’s not haunted by personal demons". For readers looking for relief from such detectives -- look elsewhere: in fact, Rocco is literally haunted by a(n entirely) personal demon, and it's a significant part of what defines the character.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 July 2017

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Black Run: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian actor and author Antonio Manzini was born in 1964.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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