DeMy review of the novel Suburra, a noir set in Rome, by Giancarlo De Cataldo and Carlo Bonini of 2013, the book that inspired the TV series on Netflix.

I read the novel Suburra immediately when it came out. It is a sequel, or better a spin-off of a previous book by De Cataldo, Romanzo Criminale, which I enjoyed a lot. I recommend both the book than the movie featuring a bunch of the most talented Italian actors.

Romanzo Criminale is set between the Seventies and the Eighties and it’s inspired by, not to say based on, the real Roman gang called “banda della Magliana” which was nearly powerful as mafia at that times.

Suburra takes place in Rome nowadays and talks about the dangerous intersections among crime, money and politics.

The book starts with one of the main characters, the corrupted politician Pericle Malgradi, in a hotel room with two prostitutes, one of which is death.

The other girl calls a friend to “clean up” the room. The guy is an affiliate of the powerful family Anacleti, who control the drug dealing in East Rome. Of course, later he tries to blackmail Malgradi. But unfortunately the politician has already a business in place with a rival gang, which leader is the mysterious Samurai. Samurai is different from his enemies: he is elegant and well educated, with a passion for Far-East culture. Years before he had embraced the neo-fascist ideology and and only later he turned to crime. His nickname traces back to a slaughter he did with a sword and became legendary among his fellows.

The blackmail attempt starts a war between the two gangs, while Samurai works to take control of the whole crime scene in Rome. On the background, a real-estate speculation the criminals want to start with the help of corrupted politicians, police officers and even high-ranking clergymen.


But luckily there’s a hero.

The Carabinieri lieutenant columnel Marco Malatesta. In his youth, Malatesta had been a far-right activist in a club led by Samurai at the beginning of his criminal career. Then he chose justice, left the neighborhood and joined the army.

As you can imagine, the hero pursuits of his former mentor and now biggest enemy until the final confrontation. On the background, a world of corrupted entrepreneurs, money lenders, killers and prostitutes.

I think that Romanzo Criminale is a better novel in terms of plot and characters definition. Nevertheless, I appreciated in the novel Suburra this good-evil dualism. Sometimes simplicity is the best choice. And Samurai is one of the best villain I’ve found in a book lately.

There’s something more about this book I want to talk about.

As I said, Romanzo Criminale was inspired by real events.

Oddly enough, some events similar to the ones in the the book happened later its publishing.

The novel Suburra was released in 2013.

Some months later, in 2014, Italian newspapers started to talk about the police investigation about the contacts between the Roman crime scene and the Roman administration.

The key person of the investigation was Massimo Carminati who, as the Samurai does in the book, met his accomplishes in a gas station. He was in violent far-right groups in the seventies. And in his house police found a japanese sword, katana.

But what impressed me more was another event.

In the book Suburra there’s a scene of a funeral. A criminal dies and his coffin is taken to the church with great honours on a horse-drawn carriage.

Well, in August 2015 there was the funeral of a notorious gang leader in Rome. The coffin was on a carriage and there was a band playing The Godfather soundtrack. An helicopter tossed rose petals. This was a great scandal, as The Guardian reports in this article.

Having read the same scene in a book months before astonished me.

I don’t have any theory about this, I just say this is literally beyond imagination.

The authors said in the interviews that they just wanted to give some depth to the Samurai character using Far-East references: the black suits, the meditation, the self control. About the funeral scene, just good luck.

Did I tell that the writer the Cataldo a judge in Rome? Probably his imagination is very close to reality.

Suburra is also a movie. I haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer.

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