The last time I saw my Roman detective Nic Costa was almost a decade ago. He was on a scooter riding into Rome after untangling — solving’s not quite the right word — a distinctly tricky family case in The Fallen Angel. I deliberately didn’t kill off Nic or his family of colleagues. They just needed a holiday.
And now that break is over. The team’s back in a new book, The Savage Shore. So lots of people are asking me: what’s it like to reconnect with characters you haven’t written about in years?
In truth it was quite easy. I always knew Costa and co would return one day. The real challenge in returning to old characters though is one you face with a series all the time: how do you keep them fresh? How do you make sure you’re not retreading the same tracks story after story?
The Costa books are ensemble pieces; it’s not just about young Nic. From book to book different characters — the forensic officer Teresa Lupo, her partner, in crime and life, the older, emotionally intelligent Peroni, and Falcone the severe boss of them all — come to the fore.
But with The Savage Shore Nic is very much at the forefront. What’s new is the location. Calabria, the toe of Italy about to kick Sicily, is a region few people know well, even many Italians. Wild, rugged, sparsely populated in areas, and controlled in many parts by a tough bunch of criminals called the ’Ndrangheta, it’s nothing like the controlled and comfy climate of Rome.
Nic and co are there to try to organise the defection of a gang boss who wants to turn ‘pentito’, state witness, against his peers. A risky move, one that the crime lord, a mysterious figure simply known as ‘Lo Spettro’, The Ghost, is approaching with understandable caution. He knows that his fellow gang members will kill him, and very possibly his family, if they get wind of what’s he’s planning. So Costa, Peroni, Teresa and Falcone are under cover in a picturesque fishing village on the Strait of Messina, waiting to be told how to make contact with the man. When the answer comes it’s shocking… Nic must join the ’Ndrangheta gang as if he’s a member in order to convince Lo Spettro the defection can happen safely.
I love this bunch of characters which naturally means, as an author, I want to make their life hell. And a form of hell this is because for once they’re not in control. In Rome they’re boss and make the rules. In Calabria it’s the very opposite. The gangs have a finger in everything and our little band of undercover cops must try to meet the challenges the criminals pose along the way.
Like most of my books this is a mystery and a thriller on the surface, but something else beneath. In this case a story about choices and individuality, how difficult it is to be someone you’re not. How your true identity will usually come to the fore in the end, for good or bad. And that applies as much to the criminals as the cops because in the bleak lands of Aspromonte, the mountain overlooking the area where this story takes place, life is never black and white, more a hazy shade of grey.
I also wanted the book to be an introduction to the culture and history of this fascinating part of the world too, which happens through a few brief chapters supposedly culled from a local tourist guide written by a relative of one of the key players in the story. Though history in Aspromonte is never what it seems. Like much else… Nic and his colleagues are in for quite a few surprises along the way.
I hope you enjoy the return of my band of Romans as much as I did bringing back from holiday for another adventure…