There are very few movies that I enjoy more than The Godfather. I know this utterance is so commonplace as to be practically a cliche, but I really, truly do enjoy the film – the first one: my feelings for the second are entirely too personal to be looked at from an objective perspective, and I really didn’t enjoy the third. I know that Puzo wrote the novel, but I am more at home with Coppola’s storytelling than with Puzo’s. There is something about it that is foreign enough to be fascinating, and yet comfortable enough to be eerily familiar, that despite it’s length and pace it is capable of sucking me right in without any complaint on my part.
Due to the high regard I have for the film, there are very few things that I compare to it in a favorable manner. More often than not, any comparisons I draw tend to be rather negative, with the copycat unable to live up to The Godfather. So it was a rather pleasant surprise to find Conor Fitzgerald’s The Dogs of Rome, and to get a feeling, based on the back blurb and a quick skim of the first chapter, that it would be rather like The Godfather. And it was – just not totally.
As anyone who follows my reviews knows by now, I love a good mystery, and rarely ever turn down the chance to read one. From Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys I graduated to Sherlock Holmes via The Hound of the Baskervilles at twelve, and have never looked back since. I have worked my way through as many of the classics as is humanly possible, and I am always more than happy to devour any mystery that is put my way by recommendation or happenstance.
It was through happenstance that I discovered The Dogs of Rome. I found the cover and title quite intriguing, and when I read the blurb on the back I was hooked. Over the Christmas break I chose to make my way through it, in between social obligations and eating my way through the mountain of (admittedly delicious) leftovers and presents of cake and cookies that inevitably builds up as a result of the holidays.
In truth, the basic plot-line of The Dogs of Rome seemed to suit the concept of a holiday read – at least in my opinion. In it, Alec Blume, an American who has lived in Italy for most of his life, is a commissario in the police force in Rome. His life as a commissario has been relatively quiet, not too difficult, really, until the body of an animal rights activist is found in his apartment by his wife, a prominent politician. While investigating the case, Blume struggles to do the right thing in solving the crime – except he runs right up against rampant political corruption and meddling by an important crime family, and what starts out as an attempt to do things the right way only leads to things going even more horribly wrong.
These attempts to do the right thing despite the fact that one cannot always do so without losing something vital about oneself is one of the first things that struck me as similar between The Dogs of Rome and The Godfather. In Coppola’s film, Michael Corleone initially tries to disassociate himself from the family business, knowing that it’s not quite in line with his own morals. But he gets sucked into it nevertheless, and his involvement transforms him. By the time the viewer gets to the end of the film, it is clear that Michael has sacrificed his high, noble ideals in order to take his father’s place.
The same might be said of Alec Blume. Though he is aware of the corruption so prevalent in the police force and in the politics surrounding it, and is even willing to take advantage of it, he still does his best to do “the right thing” when it comes to solving crimes. But he quickly realizes that, in the world of Roman crime, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and his “good intentions” get more people killed – people who do not deserve to die.
Another thing similar between The Godfather and The Dogs of Rome is the pace of the plot. One cannot call either of these stories fast-paced, but that is actually a good thing. The slow pace allows the reader to get to know the characters, to settle into their world without any unnecessary haste. However, unlike in The Godfather, the slow pace of The Dogs of Rome might be viewed initially as rather off-putting. This may be because I am more used to the more relentless pace of other mysteries, but the pace of the investigation in the novel struck me as a mite too lazy, even with the interference of corruption and crime lords. It does pick up somewhat in the latter one-third of the novel, but what comes before that admittedly exciting latter third might put off less patient readers.
Aside from this, I think another difficulty of this novel is that some of the characters just aren’t as engaging as I think they ought to be. Blume has his colleagues, and some of them are unique characters in the sense that they stand out and are easy to remember, but none of them is really worth truly getting to know. Even Blume, despite that aspect of him being “a stranger in a strange world” simply because he is an American working in with the Italian police, just does not seem to be a character the reader can connect with easily. One reads his story with a detachment which I find rather unpleasant: one must like at least the person narrating the story, but liking Blume is not quite easy.
Finally, there is the utterly foreign police system used in the novel. Superficially it might resemble more familiar police systems around the world, but when one gets into the nitty-gritty of it, it really does not. And doesn’t help that Blume’s explanations as to how the system works (sans corruption, or even with it) are either too brief or not given at all. There is not much explanation as to how crime-solving works in this novel, and I think more information would have been helpful.
Overall, The Dogs of Rome is the sort of book that requires patience: patience with the slogging pace of the first two-thirds of the story; patience with the characters; and patience with the unfamiliar police system of Rome and the dearth of information regarding how it functions. This patience is rewarded by a latter one-third that’s quite fascinating, and enlightening in its own way, but I am not sure how many readers would even get to that point if they have already given up before this part.