Elena Past. Methods of Murder. Beccarian hztrospection and Lombrosian Vivisection in Italian Crime Fiction. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto University, 2012.
Italian crime fiction emerged as a subject of serious critical enquiry over the past two decades; it responded to the publishing boom that began in the mid 1990s and turned this once marginalized genre into a well-established literary phenomenon. Crime fiction of the home-grown variety grew steadily since the 1930s. Yet, the Italian literary establishment until recently has remained resistant to the notion of using the same critical tools applied to the study of the Italian literary canon to this popular genre resulting in a dearth of serious studies. Unsurprisingly, the new wave of critical attention to this publishing phenomenon has come from those literary and scholarly cultures which were less preoccupied with the hierarchical positioning of genre fiction. British and North American scholars in the past decade have shown an increasing interest in Italian crime fiction and have focused their critical attention on both past and present masters. As Elena Past's study deftly demonstrates, not only have Italian writers always chosen to write crime fiction, but two of the most influential texts on criminology that originated in Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries can be viewed as originating forces in the creation of a distinct tradition of Italian crime writing. In her introduction, Past delineates the fundamentals of the epistemology of crime which underpins these two texts, Cesare Beccaria, Dei delitti e delle pene and Cesare Lombroso, L'uomo delinquente. In this highly original study, Past uses the two diametrically opposite views of the criminal which one finds in Beccaria and Lombroso as the points of departure for the close analysis of a number of influential novels by past and present Italian crime writers.
The study comprises two distinct sections in which Past deals with what she terms Beccarian introspection and Lombrosian vivisection. Lombroso's captivating fascination for the physical description of the criminal and his/her environment produces a way of reading and interpreting both the crime scene and the criminal which is entirely different from Beccaria's emphasis on the cerebral understanding of the causes of crime as an issue of civil justice (or lack of it). …