Linda di Martino
Come un filo d’erba nel deserto
(Like a blade of grass in the desert)
Editrice Laurum, 2008
Translated by Noëlle Collomb
A very high, unsettling cry comes from the sky; not really…as a matter of fact, it comes from the viaduct standing thirty five metres in the air, precisely above two young policemen, the only witnesses. This is the great impact of the initial scene in Come un filo d’erba nel deserto, a novel by di Martino, published posthumously by Laurum.
The narrator - Calogero Catania, one of the policemen – tells us about the daily life in his out-post in a village situated in the hills surrounding Florence: the routine of small cases (the theft of a necklace, followed by the theft of a famous painting; a daughter who accuses her father of molesting her; a case of mistaken identity,…) and now this strange, mysterious suicide (if indeed it is a suicide…) of a young man without identity. In many ways, this dramatic event breaks the daily routine, steering the investigators towards the city to look into secrets behind shady reports of well-to-do neighbours and professionals. In the end, this leads to a troublesome outcome which will touch closely the young policeman.
It is fair to notice straightaway how the policemen are in the foreground in this last novel (but perhaps not the last in absolute terms, at least I believe…) as in her debut novel, Troppo belle per vivere, winner of the Alberto Tedeschi prize as early as 1987. By giving the manuscript the provisional title “ Non è l’87° Distretto” (This is not District 87°), undoubtedly the writer wanted to stress her conscious selection of the detective genre not much favoured in Italy, perhaps following the example of the time she wrote the l’anglobecera Magdalen Nabb with the crimes dedicated to marshal Guarnaccia, operating beyond the Florentine region.
In the field of the Italian thriller of the last ten years- built in essence on contrasting provinces, there have been some honorable exceptions – Linda di Martino (1937-2005) has been a “case”. It can be said that in no half-terms, that she has been underrated by the critics, from the beginning of her career until her premature death, when she “ventured” several times to become a personality. As a writer, she always took “risks” by creating beforehand an escape route: The path of anonymity and disguise.
Two of these occasions corresponded with the winning of the important Tedeschi prize, awarded for an unpublished thriller.
In 1987, she won with Troppo bella per vivere; in 1996 she was awarded the prize again with L’incidente di via Metastasio. The two novels were published by Giallo Mondadori.
The first time, she signed the novel laden with reminiscences of classical studies, with the pseudonym “ Domizia Drinna”. The second time, almost ten years later, she could not repeat the trick and she went under the name of her unknowing sister who, surprised by the phone call from the jury about the award, admitted to having a sister who enjoyed writing thrillers and supposedly was on holidays somewhere…
The panel for the Tedeschi prize told the writer a few years later that they did not take this well: instead of finding a young unknown writer, they were faced with an old familiar face!
In summarizing the path of her writing, I believe that – while considering the plot halfway trivial– for her it was essential to create stories stripped of any ephemeral aspect of everyday life, therefore capable of pointing out the dense under-layer of dark psychologies (not to mention concealed pathologies) and of secret and ambivalent passions.
This is particularly true in her historical thrillers (a novel is a long, dense story) dedicated to the Florence of the end of the eighteenth century, during the years of the total demolition of the Ghetto and of the Mercato Vecchio, when we have crimes set in historical times. For the distinctness of her writing, for the magic realism of her stories and for the visual eccentricity of her dark psychology, for the mundane as much as the exceptional, we are certain that Linda will be remembered for a long time- and not only within the restricted circles of the literature of genres.
Linda di Martine was born on the 7th of December 1937 in Aversa (Caserta). She grew up in Umbria and later went to Florence where she taught for thirty years in secondary schools and grammar schools. She published Troppo bella per vivere, Il Giallo Mondadori, 1987; L’incidente di via Metastasio, Il Giallo Mondadori, 1996; Isola sempre, C.Zella editore, 1997; La donna d’oro, Editrice Laurum, 2003; Malakos-la vetta dei misteri, Editrice Laurun 2005. She published several stories in various anthologies. She died in Florence on the 7th of December 2005.
Graziano Braschi was in the seventies and eighties one of the three “ historical” editors of Ca Balà, a journal of graphic humour and political satire. In the mid-seventies, he looked exclusively after the literature of genre (detective, horror, fantasy and science fiction stories) as reviewer for various dailies, national and foreign magazines. He has edited ten other crime and horror anthologies.