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Pesto, the Mafia, and Wolves Guarding Sheep: the first Red Riviera blog post by Commissioner Daria Vinci, guest blogger

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation, pub date: June 25, 2021,
Alan Squire Publishing, ASP

Red Riviera, a Daria Vinci Investigation, set on the Italian Riviera... accident or murder?

Introducing Commissioner Daria Vinci, a plainclothes special agent of the elite investigative unit of Italy’s DIGOS—the Italian FBI.

Daria’s base is Genoa, Italy’s busiest Mediterranean port. The birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Genoa is an ancient place crammed into the northernmost tip of the Mediterranean on a jagged coastline that backs up against the Apennines.

Why Genoa? For one thing, it has one of the biggest, busiest container-port facilities in Europe—and plenty of wharf rats and other vermin, animal, human, real and metaphorical. This is an ancient walled city founded in pre-Roman times. Its roistering narrow alleyways and roughshod alure contrast with the glitzy wealth and breathtaking beauty of the Italian Riviera, the coastline on both sides of it. The official name of the region is Liguria. Genoa is the capital.

Red Riviera is the first Daria Vinci Investigation. This fast-paced crime novel takes place in Genoa and on the Riviera—in world-famous seaside resorts such as Portofino, Rapallo and the Cinque Terre. Sequels to the novel are set elsewhere in Italy and beyond. They will include Roman Roulette, Venetian Vendetta, Florentine Fiasco….

Click to watch the first Red Riviera teaser video

For this first post as a guest blogger, I’ve invited Daria to talk about organized crime on the Riviera, partly because in Red Riviera the crime at the heart of the story—or the series of crimes—looks like a Mafia operation.

Why is this a Red Riviera? Easy: because of the color of the red bougainvillea or morning glory vines knotted around everything, everywhere. And the spectacular sunsets. And the red chemical fire-retardant dropped from the air on the wildfires that burn the dry outback for about half of each calendar year.

Most of all, it’s red for the color of blood—in this case, blood spilling from the butchered bodies Daria Vinci and her colleagues at DIGOS discover one fine spring morning as they investigate what looks like a serial murder. Somehow, the butchery is tangled up with the kidnapping or accidental death or murder of a superrich American former spy with Mafia connections… I’ll say no more.

As novelist and travel writer Matthew Félix said about the novel, “Red Riviera had me in its clutches from the start—and refused to let go. I gasped. I laughed out loud. And that was just the first chapter! A shocking premise, a stunning locale, and a complex web of history, politics and crime that somehow made perfect sense in the end. The pacing is flawless, the engaging characters leave you curious for more. Another, please!”

Sure thing, Matthew! Coming right up! Roman Roulette will be published in summer, 2022.

In the meantime, happy travels and even happier reading with Daria on Red Riviera! –David Downie

Daria Vinci’s first post as guest blogger

Hi! Buongiorno!!

Please call me Daria. My father was Italian, and I’m an Italian police officer, a captain. But my mother—she’s still alive and snapping at nearly 90 and she’s totally American. I’m used to American informality and to be honest I prefer it.

The other day when David and I met for a walk and a cup of caffè americano (and a big slice each of Genoese focaccia), he asked me a delicate question.

Oh, before I get to that, I need to tell you that I love focaccia more than just about anything or anyone—except my new romantic interest, Gianni Giannini. But despite my reputation for being tough and hardboiled I am not a cannibal. I do not want to devour Gianni except metaphorically. So, I eat a lot of focaccia instead, either plain or cheese-filled and somehow—maybe because I’m so hyperactive—I don’t seem to put on weight.

Genoese or Ligurian focaccia, Daria Vinci's favorite snack, photo copyright Alison Harris
Ligurian cheese focaccia, another of Commissioner Daria Vinci's favorite foods, photo copyright by Alison Harris

Anyway, as I was starting to say, David, who’s crazy about walking and hiking and focaccia, like me, was trotting along at my side the other day on the seafront promenade to Portofino when he asked me how powerful the Mafia is on the Italian Riviera.

To illustrate my answer, I told him about the unplanned, tragicomical lunch encounter I had not long after being transferred from the Ministry of the Interior in Rome to the DIGOS headquarters in Genoa, about five or six years ago.

Rewind to 2015 or 2016. On my day off, not knowing anyone in Genoa other than my godfather and his wife, Pinky, I went to a famous old trattoria in the hills west of town. The place is known for its handmade basil pesto. I was on my own. Not much fun, I agree. But I hadn’t met Gianni yet. I guess I should also admit up front that I am equally crazy for Genoese pesto and will travel great distances to get the authentic item.

Pesto made by hand in a marble mortar, Daria Vinci adores pesto! Photo copyright Alison Harris

So, at this funky old trattoria way up in the hills, I was enjoying the homemade linguine topped with basil and pine nuts they’d just ground up fresh in a stone mortar, and I was wondering why no one in the place was overweight. Then somehow—I can’t remember the details—I struck up a conversation with another lone diner, the only pudgy guy in the trattoria. He was sitting at the next table.

I could tell right away he was some kind of plainclothes cop. The guy was an innocuous-looking forty-something Southern Italian. His accent was thick as minestrone. He had a baby face and long, soft whiskers. I have to admit, he looked pretty silly and harmless. Later on, I learned he was an official of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s tax police. I won’t mention his name, for obvious reasons.

Discretion was not the forte of this young, know-it-all police officer. Clearly, he had no idea he was expatiating to a fellow cop—a newly arrived undercover DIGOS operative who had been dealing with the Mafia for over twenty years, mostly in Rome. That’s me. So, I let him talk on in his childishly boastful way, deciding not to reveal my identity until the meal and the conversation were over.

“It’s not that there’s no organized crime here, Signora,” the young captain of the tax police said to me, glancing around to make sure we weren’t being overheard by the solicitous waitress, or captured surreptitiously on camera. “Let me put it this way. If I were a dictator with absolute power and no limits on the means available to me,” he continued in a whisper, “a modern-day Mussolini, a Trump or a Putin, say, and I waged five years of total war against La Camorra in Naples, or the Sicilian mafia in Palermo, I still would not win.”

He paused at this point for the theatrical effect, the threads of pasta and green oily sauce glistening on his hovering fork. “Give me two days as dictator of Genoa,” he had continued, navigating the forkful of pesto under his whiskers into his mouth, “just two days, and the war would be over.”

Chewing with alacrity, the tax police officer had added, “There simply is no comparison. Corruption and mobsters exist here, of course, but they’re marginal phenomena, and the worst Mafiosi in town are Albanian or Libyan people-traffickers, Russians, Chinese and Romanians, not Italians.”

At the time, the captain was right. But things have changed since then. Organized crime has taken hold on the Riviera—not just Russian and Albanian mafiosi but homegrown Italian gangs plus Chinese and North African traffickers—you name it.

Ironically, a few years after that lunch encounter, I read in the papers that this officer had been charged with graft then drummed out of the corps. “Wolves to guard the sheep,” I remember saying to myself, “an Italian specialty.”

Then on second thought, after what happened on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC, the Trump-inspired insurrection, I realized that the world is full of wolves guarding sheep, even in America. As a professional sheepdog, it’s my job to uncover the ravenous beasts wrapped in sheepskins and make sure the lambs do not wind up stewed or broiled and served in a local trattoria after the pesto. Well, I think you know what I mean. On that note, I wish all of you buon appetito! Until next time…

Ciao ciao from Red Riviera! –Daria

All food photos copyright Alison Harris

Red Riviera, A Daria Vinci Investigation, published June 25, 2021 by Alan Squire Publishing
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