Confessions of a Reluctant Crime Reader, no.8: Suburra

I have a confession to make… I had to look up the meaning of the title Suburra. What I found was contradictory but illuminating! According to various online dictionaries it means alternatively ‘slum’ or ‘under city’ – specifically relating to Rome’s old low-class, red-light district, down the hill from the ancient city centre, where the rich would venture to drink and conduct dirty business (of all kinds).

Suburra in Rome is a place which has become synonymous with Italian crime. However the word also, at least according to this site, means ‘poetic’ in Italian. Having just finished Suburra, this makes a lot of sense… for many reasons!

Layout 1

Published in Italy in 2013, Suburra has already been a hit film (in 2015) and Netflix is shortly to air their first ever original Italian series based on the novel. It’s not hard to see why it’s already been adapted twice – not only is the Italian mafia such a perennially popular subject, Suburra perfectly intertwines government, police, organised crime and ordinary citizens in a furore of both low and high level machinations.

Centring on a redevelopment project for the waterfront area of Ostia, the warring mafia families of Anacletic and Adami rub up against each other – aided and abetted by various feckless members of Carabinieri police force and local politicians. The action plays out under the scrutiny of the two most prominent characters: the chilling and legendary ‘maestro’ gang leader, Samurai, and the doggedly determined former fascist hoodlum and now police Colonel, Marco Malatesta, whose aim is to bring them all (but especially Samurai) down.

Full of violence, plotting, sex, drugs, and money, the book crackles with energy and intensity as it knits together facets of local government, fascist and communist politics, issues of immigration and nationality, football, prostitution, gambling, class and family through the incredible cast of characters.

It also paints a vivid, gritty and very genuine rendering of the Rome which is far-removed from tourists’ eyes, as well as provides a scintillating, and apparently dangerously on-the-nose portrait of contemporary Italian politics, thanks to the two authors – Carlo Bonini (a journalist for La Repubblica) and Giancarlo de Cataldo (a novelist, screenwriter and circuit court judge!).

This book makes a phenomenal addition to the corpus of established mafia novels and the Netflix series will undoubtedly bring hordes of new fans flocking! Make sure you stay ahead of the curve (like I did) and read the book first.


  • Post by Rachel


Suburra by Carlo Bonini & Giancarlo de Cataldo, translated by Anthony Shugaar is published by Europa Editions (9781609454074, 521pp, £13.99)

Leave a Reply