Italian Noir: Detective, crime and suspense fiction on the page, the screen, and in-between

“Hunger and love, and their various, countless derivations, were the root causes of every murder” (De Giovanni, By my Hand).

If you look for noir in an Italian bookstore, you’ll find it under the heading “gialli,” which means “yellows,” because the genre arrived in Italy in the 1930s with a series of translations of British and American crime novels with yellow covers. Since the end of WWII, noir (or better, yellow) Italian fiction has been instrumental in revisiting dark and violent eras of the country’s past (the Cold War, the “Years of Lead”, Black and Red Terrorism) and the haunting presence of national and international organized crime.

This course offers a journey into the depths and writing techniques of detective, crime, and suspense fiction in the company of the Italian masters of the genre.

If Italy’s tourist dream is enveloped in art, beauty, fashion and design, its dark heart represents something more sinister, crude, and gripping. Out of this chilling reality, a new wave of crime fiction has emerged, with its own twist on the conventions of the detective novel, which bites into that grey zone between political power, (il)legal economy, and the mob world. The huge success of I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti followed by Gabriele Salvatore’s film of the same name took the UK and the US by storm. Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, Carlo Lucarelli’s novels Almost Blue and Carte Blanche, and Massimo Carlotto’s The Goodbye Kiss are further evidence of this surge.

Welcome to a world of no-nonsense, no-frills, in-your-face thrillers, movies and graphic novels with an Italian twist. In a society where everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted, Italian authors write detective stories that offer no simple (re)solutions but provide powerful introspections onto a whole society. It is a noir world with few happy endings but where light and a certain lightness of being can still be enjoyed and revered.

At the end of this course students will have a better understanding of one of the most successful genres in the contemporary Italian literary landscape and the political and socio-cultural debates it has been able to generate across the Italian peninsula when intellectuals become detectives.

It is one hell of a read, ride, and all that’s in between!

“A gem . . . A vivid portrait of Milan’s seamy underbelly . . . Scerbanenco reveals Duca Lamberti to us; in doing so, he also unveils the Italian hardboiled hero. Beautifully bleak… Cooler than a chilled Negroni.”
Crime Fiction Lover

“You either love Andrea Camilleri or you haven’t read him yet. Each novel in this wholly addictive, entirely magical series, set in Sicily and starring a detective unlike any other in crime fiction, blasts the brain like a shot of pure oxygen…transporting.”

—A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window 

A sample of required readings:


Niccolò Ammaniti, I am not scared, Harper Perennial, 2004.

Barbara Baraldi, The Girl With the Crystal Eyes, John Blake, 2010.

Andrea Camilleri, The Shape of Water (The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries Book 1), Viking, 2002.

Andrea Camilleri, Carlo Lucarelli and Giancarlo De Cataldo, Judges, MacLehose Press, 2015.

Gianrico Carofiglio, A Fine Line, Bitter Lemon Press, 2016.

Massimo Carlotto, The Colombian Mule, Europa Editions, 2013.

Maurizio De Giovanni, By My Hand, Europa Editions, 2014.

Giancarlo De Cataldo Romanzo criminale, Atlantic Books, 2001.

Giancarlo De Cataldo and Andrew Brown, Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Boof of Italian Crime Fiction, Bitter Lemon Press, 2008.

Massimo Carlotto, The Goodbye Kiss, Europa Editions, 2006.

Massimo Carlotto and Marco Videtta, Poisonville, Europa Editions, 2009.

Lucarelli, Almost Blu

Giorgio Scerbanenco, Traitors to All: A Duca Lamberti Noir, Melville International Crime, Reprint edition, 1966/2014.

Critical Essays ­

Angelo Castagnino, The Intellectual as a Detective. From Leonardo Sciascia to Roberto Saviano, Peter Lang, 2014.

Barbara Pezzotti, Investigating Italy’s past through Crime Fiction, Films and TV Series: Murder in the Age of Chaos, Palgrave McMillan, 2016.

Barbara Pezzotti, Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction. An Historical Overview, McFarland, 2014.

Barbara Pezzotti, The Importance of Place in Contemporary Italian Crime Fiction. A Bloody Journey, FDU Press/Rowman&Littlefield, 2012.

Giuliana Pieri, Ed. Italian Crime Fiction, University of Wales Press, 2011.

Students who plan to minor in Italian must take this course as ITAL and will be expected to do part of their reading and assignments in the Italian language.

ITST 419 may be taken twice, with different content, for a total of 6 credits.

Prerequisites: None

Language of instruction: English

Course Registration