Tom Benjamin and A Quiet Death in Italy
Tom Benjamin is a crime author, living in and loving Italy so much, it’s the setting for his novel, A Quiet Death in Italy.
Bologna: city of secrets, suspicion . . . and murder
A dark and atmospheric crime thriller set in the beautiful Italian city of Bologna, perfect for fans of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Philip Gwynne Jones.
When the body of a radical protester is found floating in one of Bologna’s underground canals, it seems that most of the city is ready to blame the usual suspects: the police.
But when private investigator Daniel Leicester, son-in-law to a former chief of police, receives a call from the dead man’s lover, he follows a trail that begins in the 1970s and leads all the way to the rotten heart of the present-day political establishment.
Beneath the beauty of the city, Bologna has a dark underside, and English detective Daniel must unravel a web of secrets, deceit and corruption – before he is caught in it himself.
Tom Benjamin’s gripping debut transports you to the ancient and mysterious Italian city less travelled: Bologna.
Let’s Place Tom Under the Spotlight!
Tell us a little about yourself and your books, including the genre(s) you write in.
I began my working life as a reporter before moving onto the press office at Scotland Yard where, both office-bound and out with the police, I was exposed to plenty of grisly crimes and unsolved mysteries.
I went on to work in international aid before heading up public health campaigns like drug awareness programme, FRANK.
My life took a sharp turn when I emigrated to Italy over a dozen years ago and within weeks went from briefing government ministers to working as a bouncer at a homeless shelter. It was there Daniel Leicester was born – an English detective walking the shadowy porticoes of Bologna.
Having experienced the more seamy side of the ‘Italian dream’, I was keen to portray a more realistic Italy with equal servings of the local Bolognese cuisine and ubiquitous graffiti, splendour and decay – ‘ceilings still enlivened by traces of frescoes.
Nymphs chased after disembodied winged-feet, a sooty sun peaked out behind clouds that had once hosted heavens but were now held together by cement.’
What project are you working on now?
The second Daniel Leicester is currently with the copy-editor so I’m waiting to see what she makes of it, and I am in the process of planning the third.
How do you choose the genre(s) you write in?
With my professional background and a love for the crime genre, it always seemed like a natural fit. However that’s not wholly why I created Daniel Leicester – the decision was very much influenced by the circumstances I found myself in.
For a start, I don’t think it is any accident Bologna is the home of the famous Italian Giallo crime genre and writers including greats like Carlo Lucarelli and Loriano Macchievelli. The city, with its 40 KM of porticoes and history of political tension, simply exudes mystery.
Then I came across Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44, a true account of his work as a British secret policeman in Italy at the end of the war and, combined with my own rather offbeat experience of the country, began to wonder what it would be like to a British detective in modern-day Italy…
Is there any particular author or book that’s influenced you, either growing up or as an adult?
So many. Perhaps it’s because I have always had wanderlust I have tended to read a lot of foreign fiction, whether its the crime greats like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Simenon, Camilleri… or general fiction – my cat is named after Louis-Ferdinand Celine (well, he is a Chartreux – if he had been a she, she would have been Colette!).
Yet in practice my leisure tastes (how I miss the beach!) are closer to home – I consume anything by William Boyd, Robert Harris, Donna Leon and Donna Tart (okay, the Donnas are Americans).
Then there’s David Peace and John Connolly, and two of my all-time favourite writers are Angela Carter and Margaret Attwood.
I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s recent The Party… but I could go on and on, so will stop there!
Is anything in your books based on real life experiences?
Apart from the setting(s), quite a lot of A Quiet Death In Italy – from the corpse at the beginning, which I came across upon a visit to the Met Police’s River Division back in the early 1990s when they had no objection to showing a young press officer a mouldering body just pulled out of the river, to the radical squatters, who actually occupied a building in my street and I got to know quite well.
How do you come up with your titles?
Definitely a collaboration with my editor at Constable, who suggested A Quiet Death In Italy, which just seemed to work so well. We decided the next – The Hunting Season – together.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I used to be the lead singer and songwriter in a Nineties Indie group called Matinee. I only hope my literary career is more successful.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party, which four authors would you invite (alive or dead)?
Only four? I’d have to go with Angela Carter, William Makepeace Thackeray, Carlo Lucarelli, and Elena Ferrante (as I live in Italy, you can see where I’m going here – under lockdown it wouldn’t be too difficult for the living Italians, while the dead British writers could simply materialise).
What are five words that describe your writing process?
It has to be done.
Which would you rather do: Never write another story or never read another book?
I could probably manage with never writing another short story?
What is the funniest typo or error you’ve ever written?
When I was editing a magazine about international aid, I trumpeted in huge letters on the cover an article by the then minister for aid George Foulkes (now Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, no less). Only I had spelled it George Foukles.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
Never something to be taken lightly, they embody character so, for example, with Dolores, who becomes Daniel’s squatter sidekick, I wanted a name that summed up her alternative personality – an Italian ‘Dolores’ is no ‘Maria’.
Daniel, of course, is entering the lion’s den, while Leicester is a mouthful for any Italian.
Who is the most supportive person in your life when it comes to your writing?
My wife, Lea, who has basically backed me every step of the way, as well as providing me with the insight into Italy I might not have received had I not been married to an Italian.
What is your most favourite word and why?
Bologna, because it has not only given me a home, it has given me my books.
What is your least favourite word and why?
Stansted. I just hate that airport.
You can find Tom in the following places:
Facebook: Tom Benjamin Facebook
Twitter: Tom Benjamin Twitter
Instagram: Tom Benjamin Instagram