It’s the last stop on the tour for The Savage Shore, I have the author David Hewson talking about the setting for his book.
Detective Nic Costa finds himself a stranger in a strange land when he’s sent to infiltrate the mob in a remote part of southern Italy
Roman police detective Nic Costa has been sent undercover to Italy’s beautiful, remote Calabrian coast to bring in the head of the feared mob, the ‘Ndrangheta, who has offered to turn state witness for reasons of his own.
Hoping to reel in the biggest prize the state police have seen in years, the infamous Butcher of Palermo, Costa and his team are aware the stakes are high. But the constant deception is taking its toll. Out of their depth in a lawless part of Italy where they are the outcasts, not the men in the hills, with their shotguns and rough justice, the detectives find themselves pitched as much against one another as the mob. As the tension rises, it’s clear the operation is not going to plan. Is Nic Costa getting too close to the enemy for comfort – and is there a traitor among them …?
Savage Shore location
When you write books set in Italy people always say, ‘It must be nice to combine a vacation with work.’ Heaven forbid! Writing’s always work, and if it isn’t something’s wrong. For me if it ever feels easy I know I’m losing the plot.
For The Savage Shore I faced a particular challenge. Parts of the story take us to places I know well – Capri, near Naples, for example, and the Venetian lagoon. But most of the tale is in an area new to me, Calabria, the toe of Italy, and home to a vicious crime mob known as the ’Ndrangheta who are at the heart of the story.
This is not the tourist heaven most people associate with Italy. True there are spectacular mountains, a handful of beautiful small seaside towns and a stunning archaeological museum in the regional capital Reggio. But for the most part the area is rural, a little run-down and in some areas clearly desperately poor.
It also has a fascinating history that’s largely unknown even to Italians. This part of the south once belonged to Greece and was colonised from the east long before the Romans came to conquer it. In the mountain villages you can still hear a dialect of Greek that’s much closer to the language of Homer than the demotic language you’ll find in modern Athens.
There are also historical links with Sicily across the water – some of them probably myth – that add a fascinating dimension to the story. So the difficulty for me was… how do I put this wonderful canvas over to the reader without distracting them from the story.
My base for my explorations was a beautiful little seaside town called Scilla. It’s near the Strait of Messina, with Sicily clearly visibly across the water. There’s a lovely local village of fishermen’s houses with boats in the footings. The locals are known for their swordfish vessels too, unique boats that ply the coast with tall watchtowers and a harpoonist in their bows – a scene that will make its way into the eventual book.
The landscape, the people, and the abandoned village I use as a principal location were all within driving distance. But that didn’t solve the technical problem of how to integrate the background with the story. Then one day I picked up a local guidebook. You often find these in area in the south – cheap little works that are written by locals and are a mixture of fact, history and myth and deeply entertaining.
And there was a clue. I invented an old guide book that appears to have been written by a relative of a character in the story. So each section of the tale begins with a relevant extract from this story within a story, one that leads into the narrative that follows.
That, I hope, helps the story along and gives the reader an insight in a wonderful part of the world, well worth a visit if you like food, great views and lots of open space. In spite of the gang connections it’s also very safe. Though not, of course, for the Roman cops trying to penetrate it in The Savage Shore.
David Hewson is a former journalist with The Times, The Sunday Times and the Independent. He is the author of more than twenty-five novels including his Rome-based Nic Costa series which has been published in fifteen languages. He has also written three acclaimed adaptations of the Danish TV series, The Killing. He lives near Canterbury in Kent.