Nadia Dalbuono’s The Few is a razor sharp thriller, mixing the political with an intelligent police procedural as it bubbles and simmers, drip-feeding us the relevant information while holding back enough to keep us flicking through the pages.
Set in the city of Rome and on the island of Elba, we join Detective Leone Scamarcio—a superbly penned character, full of tension and a Mafioso past, through his father, that is difficult to shred—as he explores a case that begins when his chief hands him a file full of photos that certain people would rather not have see the light of day. The consequences are complex and high-reaching, as we’re thrown into a world of dark political dealings, murder, sex trafficking, murder, and other nefarious crimes.
Dalbuono is a terrific a writer—her descriptions of stale cigarette smoke and strong latte coffee leap off the page so much you can almost envision yourself there, wandering the dark streets of Rome in an attempt to unlock its secrets. A murdered male prostitute sets the action in motion, but The Few is a slow-burner: Scamarcio senses that these are events beyond his paygrade, and yet he slowly, but inevitably, begins to paint the picture of the involvement of a group that calls themselves ‘The Few’.
This is a debut novel that does not hold back: we’re faced with everything from kidnapping to sex and drugs—each crime bleeding into the next. For Scamarcio and his father’s past, sometimes the lines between being morally upstanding and needing to get results as a detective become blurred, and some of the best scenes are the interactions between Piero Piocosta, his father’s old lieutenant, and Scamarcio, as he struggles against some morally difficult choices
The author brilliantly manipulates the way in which the narrative moves as we’re fed italicized titbits of the world of the corrupt politicians at the heart of Scamarcio’s tricky, sensitive case. Not only to you get the sense that the detective is playing a game that involves a fine balancing act, but the consequences could end his career and maybe even his life.
If this strange, murky world—full of corruption and murder—Dalbuono gives us enough to whet the appetite elsewhere, too: particularly Scamarcio’s ‘girlfriend’, Aurelia, who works in the morgue. Theirs is a refreshingly different look at the usual shoe-horned relationship narrative, and you get the sense that Dalbuono is far from finished exploring their strange dynamic.
Overall, The Few is an intelligent debut that introduces us to a cast of fascinating characters—some of whom will be returning in a sequel called The American—whilst telling a complex story of the lengths that people will go to, in order to keep their secrets hidden.