Tag Archives: The Americans

The Intel: Nadia Dalbuono

Nadia DalbuonoThe American is the follow-up to Nadia Dalbuono’s acclaimed Rome-set thriller The Few, which featured  her compromised detective, Leone Scamarcio. So we’re dead excited at Crime Thriller Fella that Nadia has agreed to spill the beans about her conflicted hero, as part of The American Blog Tour.

The son of a former leading mafioso, Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and joined the Rome police force. When he is called to investigate an apparent suicide on the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a stone’s throw from Vatican City, the dead man’s expensive suit suggests yet another businessman fallen on hard times.

But Scamarcio is immediately troubled by similarities with the 1982 murder of Roberto Calvi, dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ because of his work for the Vatican Bank. When, days later, a cardinal with links to the bank is killed, and the CIA send a couple of heavies to warn him off the case, Scamarcio knows he is on to something big …

A documentary filmmaker for Channel Four, Nadia these days devotes more time to writing in Italy. She gives us the intel on Scamarcio, the beautiful shadow world of Rome, the real life mystery that fuels her new book –  and how, if you’re a writer, you’re going to have to take criticism on the chin.

Tell us about Leone Scamarcio…

Leone is a good man but he’s very difficult. He’s plagued by feelings of shame, insecurity and frustration as a result of the family tragedy that befell him as a teenager. It is now over twenty years since that day but he still hasn’t managed to shake off these issues. Unfortunately he is highly attractive to women and those that find themselves in a relationship with him face a very bumpy ride.

What was the inspiration for The American?

I’ve always been intrigued by the death of Roberto Calvi who was head of Banco Ambrosiano, a bank in which the Vatican was the main shareholder. He died in highly mysterious circumstances on Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 but the questions surrounding his death have never been answered. His suicide/murder was the primary inspiration for the book.

What is it about Rome and about Italian society that so attracts you?

I think it’s the complexities and ambiguities of Italian society that so appeal. You have these picture postcard settings: the landscapes, the architecture, the artistic treasures but beneath it all there’s so much darkness, so much suspicion, paranoia and mistrust. It’s a cauldron of nefarious activity and I like the contrast.

The AmericanItaly is home to two of the world’s most-secretive organisations – the Mafia and the Vatican. As a crime writer, you must be like a kid in a sweet shop…

That’s it really. The lunchtime news often makes your jaw drop and I find myself struggling to keep up sometimes.  Frankly, the UK seems somewhat bland in comparison. I grew up there but I don’t really have a great desire to write about the place.

Has your own career as a documentary film-maker influenced your writing, do you think?

Yes I think it has. When you work in documentaries you come across such a colourful cast of characters all with their own unique stories to tell. Inevitably they give you ideas for characters or plots. I also think documentaries give you quite a good feel for dialogue because you spend so much time in the edit listening to how people express themselves.

You love TV crime dramas – what’s kept you gripped recently?

I loved the American version of The Bridge and although it’s more of a spy than a crime drama, I think The Americans on Fox is really strong. It just seems to improve with every series.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

You have to be your own worst critic. If you think something doesn’t quite work, it’s no good thinking that it’s probably just you and nobody else will notice. They will. Also, you need to learn to take criticism on the chin. It really stings at first but you need to let the emotion dissipate and then focus on the point that is being made. You should ask yourself if they could be right and if it’s something you should be working to improve.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Michael Connelly for his extraordinary insider knowledge of the court room which makes his books so compelling. Lee Child for his pacing and Dennis Lehane for his ability to create an atmosphere. For me, Lehane is the master.

Give me some advice about writing…

Try to write every day if you can. Writing is a muscle and if you don’t use it, it grows slack. I am a mother to two small children and it is not always possible for me to sit down at my desk so I’ve learnt this the hard way.

What’s next for you and Scamarcio?

I’ve just finished book three in the series which takes Scamarcio into the world of Rome’s showbiz set. I’m now about to start book four which will be quite a departure and sees him involved in a crisis he would never have expected to be asked to assist with. His role threatens to place him at the centre of the global media spotlight which is the very last thing he wants…


The American, published by Scribe, is out now in paperback.

TV Crime Log: Shetland, Law, Americans

UnknownThe murder rate in the Scottish Highlands is about to go way up. After its one-off pilot did so well last year, there was never any doubt that Shetland would return to BBC1 for a full series.

The series  – three tales told in two-parts – is, of course, based on the books by Ann Cleeves. Douglas Henshall stars as DI Jimmy Perez. That’s him above looking, well – enormous.

Here’s the blurb:

Old wounds are painfully reopened as DI Jimmy Perez and his team look into a past crime to solve the present-day murder of a young teenage girl. The residents of Ravenswick are shocked when 17-year-old Catherine Ross is found murdered on a secluded beach.

With his cottage overlooking the crime scene, local recluse Magnus Bain is first to be questioned by Perez who is intrigued to discover Magnus had forged an unlikely friendship with the victim. Perez and his team – DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh and Trainee DC Sandy Wilson – begin piecing together the hours leading up to Catherine’s death.

Perez questions Sally Henry, Catherine’s timid best friend whose mother – local schoolteacher Margaret Henry – makes no secret of her dislike for Catherine. He follows up with Hugo Scott, Catherine’s evidently obsessed teacher, and Alan Isbister, a local playboy philanderer, who admits to seeing Catherine at his party on Midsummer Night.

When Fiscal Procurator Rhona Kelly draws Perez’s attention to the unsolved case of Catriona Bruce, a seven-year-old girl who disappeared from the same village 19 years ago, Perez realises that the two girls even shared an address.

Although Magnus’s name crops up regularly throughout the investigation, Perez refuses to commit entirely to a link between the death of Catherine and Catriona’s disappearance – fearing a witch hunt around Magnus.

However, when the perfectly preserved body of a young girl is discovered in the peat bogs and a connection to Magnus arises, Perez is reluctantly forced to rethink his investigation.

With Vera going great guns for ITV, Cleeves is kind of sanguine about the way books are changed for television, saying that writers have to learn to let go of their work as soon as readers pick them up. You can see her interesting thoughts about the series here.

The books adapted for the series are Raven Black, Dead Water and Blue Lightning, leaving only one of her five Shetland books unadapted. Presumably, if it goes to another series, the telly people will have to purchase a whiteboard and some magic markers, and get storylining.

Shetland is on tomorrow — Tuesday night — at 9pm, on BBC1.

UnknownSo Law & Order: UK is back on ITV, Wednesday at 9pm, for its umpteenth series. Bradley Walsh’s DS Ronnie Brooks seems to have rather carelessly lost another sidekick along the way. You know the deal with Law And Order. Some coppers investigate a crime and then you pop off to make a cup of tea and by the time you’re back, everyone’s arguing in court.

We’re talked about Law and Order before. It’s an absolutely massive TV universe in the US, with over 1,000 episodes made in the US of its various series iterations, and numerous crossovers with other shows.

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by the blurb:

DS Ronnie Brooks and his new partner Joe are leading an investigation into the death of jeweller Harry Bernstein who is found dead with no hands or teeth.  His wife Lindsay, her lover David, and a former business associate, Mickey Belker, are all possible suspects.

But the case takes a surprising turn when Bernstein’s sister turns up with his severed hands. They were delivered to her house in a box to lend weight to a very simple message: ‘not guilty’.

imagesAnd finally, the second series of The Americans airs on Saturday. I stuck with the first series, just about. Sometimes stodgy, sometimes gripping, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are the KGB agents posing as a normal suburban couple in the 1980s. The wig work is good, but the tone was all over the place. You always felt like the creative-team were never quite sure about whether they wanted to have fun or the idea or not.

Rhys and Russell would run about in the dead of night, getting into all sorts of trouble, and you’d sit there thinking, who’s looking after the kids? 

I’ll probably stick with it. Hell, I’m no quitter. Amazingly, it’s managed to hold onto its Saturday night slot on ITV, at 9.20pm.

Crime Thriller TV & Movie Log: Americans, Purge, Plan, Blood

I was hoping to get to Crimefest but, sadly, responsibilities have kept me away. Which is a shame, because it all looks tremendously exciting. If you’re there, I hope you’re making the most of the panels, conventions and workshops. I’ll see you there next year.

UnknownHowever, if you’re sitting around the house this weekend wondering how to fill your hours, you could do worse than to start watching The Americans, which is on ITV at 10pm, Saturday night.

It’s has a terrific conceit. Check out the blurb, comrade:

In 1981, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are undercover Soviet intelligence agents from the secretive Directorate S of the KGB sent to the U.S. 15 years ago to work deep cover in Washington, D.C.

Their assumed identities are a married couple who run a travel agency, and even their own children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) do not know their secret. Before coming to the U.S., they were instructed not to share their personal lives with each other. The Jennings become stuck with Timochev, a Soviet defector they had abducted to send back to the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) has moved in across the street with his family. Philip and Elizabeth must figure out what to do with Timochev, who remains locked in the trunk of their car, while they contemplate whether or not Beeman’s arrival is a coincidence.

I’ve been looking forward to this coming to UK screens for a good while now. The reviews in the US have been tremendous — and the good news is, it’s been recommissioned for a second series.

The Americans was created by a former CIA man called Joe Weisberg, who, as a former agent, must run his scripts past the agency. It’s inspired by the so-called Illegals Program, when a network of deep-cover Russian agents were rounded up by the FBI in 2010. One pair of sleeper agents cohabited and even had children to maintain their cover in suburban New Jersey.

There are also some interesting crime thriller movie releases out this week that you may feel worthy of your patronage.

Blood is the kind of gritty thriller us Brits do rather well, and it’s got a top-notch cast. Paul Bettany proved he could do dark and conflicted in the movie version of Mellis and Scinto’s terrific play Gangster No. 1. In Blood he’s joined by Stephen Graham – Capone in Boardwalk Empire, of course – and Mark Strong, who’s appeared in any number of thrillers. Oh, and Brian Cox is in it, too. That’s a good cast by anybody’s standards.

Blood is the story of two policemen brothers who investigate a crime they themselves have committed.

In Everybody Has A Plan, Viggo Mortensen stars as a man, bored with his own life, who takes on his twin brother’s identity — and gets mixed up with his brother’s criminal friends. The film is  Argentinian – Mortensen spent his early childhood there and can speak fluent Argentinian Spanish. We like Mr Mortensen, don’t we, for his terrifically intense performances in Eastern Promises, The Road and A History of Violence. He’s also a musician, artist and photographer, and has  been known to immensely lovely hair.

One of those home-invasion movies, The Purge also has a really good idea at its core. In an America wracked by escalating crime, the government sanctions a night in which anybody can commit any crime. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey pay a couple who  let a stranger into their house – as you naturally would on an evening when psychopaths and killers roam the streets.

Oh, dear — people in masks. They always give me the shivers.