A Private Venus
A Duca Lamberti Noir
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.
"A noir writer richly deserving rediscovery."
The book that gave birth to Italian noir . . .
Milan, 1966: When Dr. Duca Lamberti is released from prison, he’s lost his medical license and his options are few. But thanks to an old connection, he lands a job, although it’s a tricky one: guarding the alcoholic son of a plastics millionaire.
But Lamberti soon discovers that the young man has a terrible secret, rooted in the mysterious death of a beautiful woman on the gritty side of town. The fast cars, high fashion, and chic nightclubs of glitzy and swinging Milan conceal a dirty reality . . . This is no dolce vita.
A Private Venus marks the beginning of Italian noir: Giorgio Scerbanenco pioneered a new type of novel that trained its gaze on the crime and desperation that roiled under prosperous Italian society in the 1960s. And at the heart of this book is Duca Lamberti, an unforgettable protagonist: obsessive, world-weary, unconventional in his methods, and trying hard not to make another fatal mistake.
Giorgio Scerbanenco was born in Kiev in 1911 to a Ukrainian father and an Italian mother, grew up in Rome, and moved to Milan at the age of eighteen. In the 1930s, he worked as a journalist and attempted some early forays into fiction. In 1943, as German forces advanced on the city,
Scerbanenco escaped over the Alps to Switzerland, carrying nothing but a hundred pages of a new novel he was working on. He returned to Milan in 1945 and resumed his prolific career, writing for women’s magazines, including a very popular advice-for-the-lovelorn column, and publishing dozens of novels and short stories. But he is best known for the four books he wrote at the end of his life that make up the Milano Quartet, A Private Venus, Traitors to All, The Boys of the Massacre, and The Milanese Kill on Saturdays. Scerbanenco drew on his experiences as an orderly for the Milan Red Cross in the 1930s to create his protagonist Duca Lamberti, a disbarred doctor; it was during this period that he came to know another, more desperate side of his adopted city. The quartet of novels was immediately hailed as noir classics, and on its publication in 1966, Traitors to All received the most prestigious European crime prize, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. The annual prize for the best Italian crime novel, the Premio Scerbanenco, is named after him. He died in 1969 in Milan.
Howard Curtis translates books from French, Italian, and Spanish, and was awarded the John Florio Prize in 2004 as well as the Europa Campiello Literary Prize in 2010.
A crackling new translation of Giorgio Scerbanenco's crime novel Private Venus has just been released. Critic John Powers read it in a single sitting. More at NPR.org
NPR Audio Player Requires Flash Upgrade: Please upgrade your plug-in to view this content.
Praise for Giorgio Scerbanenco
“[A Private Venus] has just been released . . . in a crackling new translation by Howard Curtis. I read it in a single sitting . . . Scerbanenco was a trailblazing radical who pulled the mask off a whole era.” —John Powers, NPR’s Fresh Air
“Compelling.” —The Wall Street Journal
“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.”
—Crime Fiction Lover
“Scerbanenco’s dark, moody novels have much in common with the darkest of Scandinavian crime fiction . . . This forgotten noir classic from 1966 is finally available in translation. That’s good news!”
“There is courage in his books, the courage to call things by their name . . . No filters shield you from the reality, which is as desperate, fierce, and stark as in the best novels of James Ellroy or Jim Thompson.”
“[Scerbanenco can be] as dark as Leonardo Sciascia, as deadpan realistic as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, as probing in his observation of people as Simenon, as humane as Camilleri, as noir as Manchette . . . but with a dark, dark humor all his own.”
—Detectives Beyond Borders
“The Duca Lamberti novels are world-class noir, and their publication in English is long, long overdue.”
—The Complete Review
"A blast from the past, a sleek, stripped-down reminder of the fast, brutal days of Continental noir."