La Guerrera – Marilù Oliva’s Warrior Trilogy


Piera Carroli

Australian National University



In the last twenty years Italian noir has become the most loved genre among Italians, with record sales, growing by 1700% between 1993 and 2004 (Serafini 2010). Academic interest has also been growing, with a number of publications including some studies on noir writings from Bologna (Cicioni and Ciolla 2008, pp. 115-32; Pieri 2011, pp. 73-88; Pezzotti, 2012, pp. 91-106 and 2014, pp. 94-112; Risi 2015, pp. 117-34).[1] Italian noir is characterised by a chameleon nature (Mondello 2010, p. 10), a blend of structures, forms and storylines from several genres and subgenres. This polymorphic genre, constantly changing its skin and shape, is characterised by a high degree of reader responsiveness because of its burning, bellicose, captivating tones (Mondello 2010, p. 13). Like the genre she embodies and modifies, the chameleonic La Guerrera, the “storm protagonist” (Fiori 2010, p. 4) of Marilù Oliva’s trilogy of noir novels, is a postmodern Dickensian orphan who rebels against an unfair fate by physically and existentially fighting against social, economic and gender injustice. The ability to change, which has ensured the survival of noir, is as crucial to the chameleon as it is to capoeira,[2] La Guerrera’s defence method, because: “[p]ara a capoiera e o camaleão mudar é apenas preserver sua essência, per la capoeira e il camaleonte cambiare è solo preservare la propria essenza [for capoeira and chameleons mutating means preserving one’s quintessence] (¡Tú la pagarás!, p. 209).[3] Oliva skilfully inserts cultural concepts in the original language in which they would be spoken, Brazilian Portuguese in this case, immediately followed by the Italian equivalent.[4] This technique enriches the narrative and discursive texture while intensifying the reading experience for speakers of Italian and Portuguese alike.

Born and residing in Bologna, Oliva has been hailed as the new star of noir and her “nerissimo” [ultra-black] (Fiori 2010, p. 4) first novel Repetita (2008), centred on a serial killer, was acclaimed an revelationary debut (Fiori 2010, p. 4).[5] Her talent and especially her linguistic innovation, realism and hypnotic style, the beat of capoeira accompanying the descriptions of La Guerrera’s battles, have been endorsed by major crime writers such as Massimo Carlotto and Valerio Evangelisti.[6] Oliva renovates noir technically and gender-wise by making the protagonist of her trilogy not a murderer or a professional woman, but an evolving character, a suspected murderer initially who becomes a police aide, then a pivotal assistant, then a suspect again in the third novel. At the same time, the Italian tradition of impegno is retained through the Guerrera’s struggles with present-day concerns such as unemployment, social injustice and violence against women.[7] Unlike other noir writers, who focus on crime organisations or violent political events, Oliva emphasises major global issues through the effects that they have on her characters and the reality around them. While maintaining a realistic approach to social issues such as insecure work conditions, immigration and violence against women – indeed she has conducted in-depth inquiries in this area (Oliva 2015a; 2013) – Oliva underlines the power of inner strength and persistence, openness and collaboration, in solving crimes and attaining some justice, individually and socially. Mezcla [mix] is essential to this process. The notion of mezcla encompasses the existential vision of the whole trilogy: like the integration of different sounds for salsa, the combination of different investigative approaches and mixing with different people and environments, can result in creative and dynamic synergies.

The setting of the trilogy is also different and original as it highlights Bologna’s changed demography. The city’s population, 386,592 in June 2015, recorded 130,000 resident immigrants and 87,600 legal foreigners in 2014, nearly half originating from Cuba.[8] Besides being known for its food and ancient university, Bologna “la grassa e la dotta” [the fat and learned], was renowned worldwide until the early 1990s as the best mix of communism and capitalism: Bologna “la rossa” [the red]. Less known abroad is the indefatigable passion for dancing that the region of Emilia-Romagna shares with Cuba. In fact, Italy’s first Latin American dance schools opened in Bologna and recently Bologna-owned clubs were inaugurated in Cuba.[9] Oliva is the first crime writer to foreground the strong synergy between Bologna and Cuba.

Oliva retains some contextual features of Bolognese noir (stifling dark alleys, porticoes, traffic) while foregrounding unfamiliar cross-sections of the city’s life, particularly the vibrant Latino milieu. In ¡Tú la pagarás! [You will pay for it], henceforth abbreviated as TLP, a man is found dead in the toilet of a popular salsa club in what appears to be a ritualistic killing. As the plot unravels, the clues linked to the Cuban deities Orishas are revealed to be a decoy to hide the real culprit. Fuego [Fire] revolves around La Guerrera’s insecure existence as past traumas are linked to present material insecurity. The salsa world still features prominently, alongside Bologna’s dark heart. Murders apparently connected to ancient fire myths are once again revealed to be rather more mundane and La Guerrera is again pivotal in discovering the culprits. The the last novel, Mala suerte [Bad Luck], abbreviated hereafter as MS, offers an insight into the Italo-Cuban underworld in Bologna. This last is the most philosophical text of the trilogy, in which the connections between past and present, esoterism, religious syncretism and materialism become cohesive in a mezcla that announces not only a new noir but also new models of transculturation for Bologna, Italy and beyond. Besides constituting a cartography of Latin American rhythms and of fire mythology, the trilogy is also an atlas of interlinked salient global issues: the changing morphology of the metropolis, migration, and precariato [a lack of job security]. Instead of generalising or blaming immigrants for the socio-economic situation, Oliva subtly pinpoints their contribution (Barina, 2015, p. 51), with characters who have set up their own businesses such as Puerto Rican Catalina and Pakistani Atif, for whom the Guerrera delivers pizzas (Fuego, pp. 11-12).

 ¡Tu la pagaràs! was shortlisted for the prestigious Scerbanenco prize for crime writing, while Fuego and Mala Suerte won the Premio Karibe Urbano [Urban Karibe Prize] for the dissemination of Latin American culture in Italy, awards honouring the Trilogy’s tribute to Latino languages, music and dance. Her books are also a tribute to the languages of the Divina Commedia or Divine Comedy, itself a mezcla of illustrious Florentine and other Italian dialects, of high and low registers. Dante used this strategy to maximise the accessibility of his masterpiece, which is essentially an apologia of languages in contact. The immediate, visual, accessible narrative style that emerges out of la Guerrera’s burning stile parlato [spoken style] is counterpointed by citations from the Divine Comedy, as if Oliva were reminding readers that Dante’s trilogy is the first Italian taxonomy of crime and punishment. Unlike other crime writers who include Dante as a character, even as a detective (Hayley 2014), Oliva, in addition to adopting a trilogy structure, incorporates seventeen quotations from each of Dante’s three Canticles in La Guerrera’s first-person chapters (Pegorari 2012). Essentially, the trilogy can be read as a post-2000 ascent from a hellish to a more serene earthly existence.

The Novels

Each of the novels in the trilogy is subdivided into two Parts, each with a Spanish title:

Tù la pagaras!                           Fuego                                            Mala suerte

Part I - Mi gente                       Part I -  Mi gente                           Part I - Mi gente

Part II Mis dioses                     Part II El fuego y el mundo            Part II – Mi música



Part I entitled Mi gente [My people] includes chapters told in the first and third person: La Guerrera’s first-person narration is interchanged with chapters in the third person, with an external narrator introducing the other characters. Part II alternates chapters in the third person on Cuban gods (TLP), fire myths (Fuego), and salsa types (MS) as well as chapters in the first person with the Guerrera as narrator. This narrative switching from the protagonist to the other characters, gods, myths and salsa sounds and back to La Guerrera, results in a brisk tempo. The novels’ titles encapsulate their main themes: “revenge”, “fire” and “misfortune” and are linked to the murders and to the protagonist’s condition. Anthropologically explained in Part II, the themes become shared cultural journeys into mysterious realms. A philosophical thread binds together crimes, investigations, and characters’ diverse approach to life and consequent modus operandi. In TLP, the focus is on appearances and falseness: El Cubano is in fact barese,[10] the suntan of the owner of the salsa club La noche is fake, La Guerrera is not a murderer, the Orishas are a red herring. Fuego instead illuminates the mythology of fire, and MS elucidates the relationship among murder, misfortune, destiny, free will and accountability.



In TLP, womaniser Thomas Delgado, the Cuban barman of La Noche, is found dead in the toilet. The murder recalls a Cuban ritual killing, and the weapon, a candelabra, has disappeared. La Guerrera, a passionate salsera and criminology student, as the victim’s fiancée, is among the suspects. She lives with Catalina, tarot reader, salsa lover and great cook. Inspector Basilica is assigned to the case. When a second murder connected to the salsa world occurs, he asks La Guerrera to help him and his assistant, Mussito, each from different parts of the country and uninformed about Latin culture, to navigate the salsa world in Bologna’s foggy winter nights. After some initial reluctance on both sides, crime-solving becomes a shared effort among different people with disparate expertise, all respectful of one another. It is, however, La Guerrera and Catalina who are pivotal to solving the murders: when the Moon emerges from Catalina’s tarot reading, a series of images flash in quick succession before the protagonist and culminate with the revelation of the murderer.

Fuego opens the following year with la Guerrera making pizza deliveries in the alleys of a torrid claustrophobic Bologna, reminiscent of Dante’s “foco etterno” [eternal fire], and closes on a starry night with La Guerrera reciting the final verses of the Divine Comedy to Inspector Basilica in the Observatory located in Bologna’s idyllic hills: “L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle” [Love that moves the sun and the other stars]. The summer heat is increased by a pyromaniac who also burns La Guerrera’s scooter, a mysterious death apparently linked to shamanic cults, and the return of sexy salsa singer Roelvis, La Guerrera’s past lover. The autopsy leads the police once again to the local salsa scene. La Guerrera throws herself into the investigations during her rum-soaked salsa roaming while a new murder is being planned by an envious Latino salsa teacher.

Mala Suerte opens in autumn in the alleys near the Due Torri, the two medieval towers denoting the heart of Bologna, with the bloody initiation of a fourth-generation Bolognese youth into a gang headed by El Chacal, a Cuban Italian. Before long an old woman is found murdered nearby in her apartment, her death caused by chloroform. Basilica suspects the gang headed by El Chacal who frequents the same salsa club as La Guerrera. While completing her thesis based on the analysis of the motives for the first murders, La Guerrera becomes a police consultant. Another murder occurs, this time in Catalina’s agency. Catalina and La Guerrera are suspected because of the chloroform found in Catalina’s laboratory. It is a minor setback for La Guerrera who, after an intimate encounter with her Cuban lover, finds out that he is closely associated with a member of the gang linked to the crime and convinces him to reveal some crucial details about the first murder.

In all the three novels, the protagonist’s intuitive powers and criminological knowledge, together with her continuous meanderings around Bologna in search of work or delivering pizzas, lead her, often by chance, to discover clues and places connected with the murders, and ultimately, in collaboration with her friend Catalina and the police team, to the culprits.

The Protagonist

La Guerrera – an indomitable rebel with strong ethics and a traumatic past, hard-boiled, hybrid, maschiaccio [tomboy] and wildly sensual – fights life’s battles by falling and picking herself up, stumbling towards an existential resolution and ultimately exorcising mala suerte or bad luck. “Questa sono io. Elisa Guerra, detta La Guerrera. Pubblicista per un giornalaccio locale, fidanzata della vittima” [This is me. Elisa Guerra, called La Guerrera. Publicist for an infamous local rag, fiancée of the victim] reads the back cover of Oliva’s books. The feisty Guerrera is only 1.57 metres tall.[11] She never leaves home without her Betty Boop handbag or her vertiginously high heels. She drives an old Peugeot or a scooter and, besides salsa, her other hobbies include sex, drinking rum añejo, travelling through Latin America, smoking Marlboro Lights and eating chips. She adores Dante. Her secret dreams are world peace, the abolition of junk TV and the resurrection of Che Guevara. Like many of her contemporaries, she perennially seeks an occupation suitable to her studies and passions, which are writing and criminology (Fuego, pp. 34-35). Other characters’ perspectives gradually reveal a multifaceted protagonist who escapes definition, orphaned at nine, she is disenchanted, impulsive, and even vain. La Guerrera embodies mezcla (MS, p. 186). Born in Sicily of a Sicilian father and a Venetian mother, after their tragic deaths (TLP, p. 115) she travelled from Sicily to Bologna alone with the coffins to live with a cold and strict aunt who forced her to learn the Divine Comedy by heart. Her inner turmoil has its roots in these unresolved childhood traumas. A scarred misfit, La Guerrera is not a victim; she is a battler with a sharp tongue, as hard as nails.

Although there have been female investigators, police detectives and also private investigators or amateur sleuths for a few decades now, characterisation and gender relations have overall followed traditional models in Italy. If the first wave of Italian women crime writers started in the 1980s, followed by the ‘golden age’ in the 1990s (Calanchi 2003), twenty years later, Oliva has initiated a third wave of Italian women’s crime writing with her La Guerrera trilogy. She depicts an evolving protagonist, unlike Grazia Verasani, also from Bologna, who, with her Cantini series, has given psychological depth to crime while retaining the usual dark Bologna contextualisation (Risi 2015). Similarly to La Guerrera, Cantini also struggles with past demons, but her character does not change as dramatically as La Guerrera throughout the series. By foregrounding female strength with a warrior protagonist, a criminology student who is vital to crime solving, rather than a dominant male or central female police officer or investigator figure, Oliva brings a fresh perspective to gender power structures in the Italian noir. Like Cantini and hard-boiled PI’s of the Anglo-Saxon traditions, La Guerrera subverts the phallocentrism of male crime fiction (Klein 1988, pp. 92-93) and also of most Italian noir: she is a “plausible” woman (Klein 1988, pp. 227-228), scarred and vulnerable, yet also strong, who can defend herself effectively without using a weapon. It would actually be illegal for her to carry a weapon since, unlike Cantini and most hard-boiled feminist protagonists, she is not a professional. In another innovation, Oliva’s protagonist’s vulnerability is also material: she is one of the many Italians in their early thirties finishing their degree while working at multiple part-time jobs with little hope of ever finding suitable employment. Thus Oliva manages to foreground a major concern of this century – precariato – through the angst and frustration of her anti-heroine. La Guerrera’s frustration and cynicism are mitigated by Catalina’s holistic spiritual vision of the world. Catalina, the only family La Guerrera has, exemplifies harmonious integration and their apartment is a cocoon from past family traumas and present socio-economic evils: unemployment, workplace sexism, violence and exploitation. Oliva continues the critique of the family and violence against women initiated by Dacia Maraini and Verasani (Pieri 2009). In the trilogy the nuclear family is either doomed or absent, replaced, however, by new shades of love, friendship, teamwork and communities in the form of the salsa crowd defined by the protagonist as mi gente [my people]. Although this theme featured in American crime fiction series of the 1980s with professional female protagonists, for example, Sara Paretsky’s private detective V.I. Warshawski (Walton and Jones 1999), Oliva introduces a new dimension with the crosscultural social group as an antidote to the inner loneliness of the noir protagonist. Made up of good and bad apples as La Guerrera states, her gente are a métis crowd that allows her to have fun, drown her frustration and come to terms with her past and present demons.

The Themes

Oliva brings the world of salsa dancing into Italian crime fiction. This is a transnational, contemporary side to a more traditional depiction of Bologna. Rather than being geographically or nationally constrained, place and belonging stem from songs, cultures, myths and memories associated with the lifestyles of the characters: most originating from elsewhere. The investigative approach is also a mezcla, a trans-cultural eclectic mix combining the global mania with forensic detail and scientific methods with alchemy, Cuban deities, mythology and salsa history. Oliva thus introduces world cultures and languages into noir. Spanish permeates the novels – indeed, all the titles are in Spanish – and is interspersed with other languages, registers and intertextual references from both global popular culture and classic and world literature. Unlike most Italian crime fiction, which foregrounds aspects of the writers’ regions (e.g., Andrea Camilleri’s Sicily and Carlo Lucarelli’s Via Emilia), Oliva’s trilogy reverberates with Latin American sounds. Salsa itself is a fiery mix of sounds and rhythms – Cuban, Caribbean, South American, all with African origins – symbolising métissage beyond and above the nation and the individual. Salsa’s magic stems from this mixed genesis (TLP, pp. 197-199) which made it a cultural revelation popular worldwide. At once a metaphor for, and a hymn to, mezcla and movement, an exorcism of current xenophobia, the pulse of salsa provides the trilogy with its relentless narrative rhythm. By retrieving salsa’s intrinsic political cry and accentuating the role of salsa and capoeira in the black African slaves’ rebellion, Oliva gives depth to phenomena now associated worldwide only with entertainment and self-defence. The many references and songs aptly interspersed throughout the novels become an infectious acculturation into salsa’s ancient liberating call as well as today’s sensual dance. Present-day salsa is neither demonised nor romanticised. Through the protagonist’s idioms, the machismo of salsa song lines and its infectious sensual movements are ridiculed and the exploitation of and violence against women associated with the possessive love often predicated by salsa are condemned and punished.

Most murders in the novels are committed in workplaces and exploitation features prominently, mostly but not exclusively at the hand of bolognesi. Emilia-Romagna, currently the Italian region with the most immigrants (approximately 1 out of 5 million) was voted as the best example of integration in early 2010,[12] and Bologna still prides itself on being a welcoming city. However, as early as the early seventies Loriano Macchiavelli challenged this polished image. While with Gruppo 13 Macchiavelli initiated the first noir revolution in Italy, Oliva, with her trilogy, has enacted the second noir revolution (Gatti 2012). Oliva’s Bologna, real and imagined, features a town centre from which most Bolognese have escaped, to avoid traffic, crime, and immigrants (MS). Bologna’s dark heart reveals itself in the blatant fascism and hypocritical homophobia of some of its inhabitants, embodied by the elderly club owner who uses his power and money to buy young migrant women, or the devious xenophobic owner of La Città, the rag for which La Guerrera works, who treats his employees like slaves, and the more subtly racist female public servant during the day, who at night turns into a salsera and also manages a popular Latino website. For many Italians salsa is an opportunity to dress and dance like Latinos, while still labelling them with stereotypes and generalisations. This contradiction, La Guerrera reflects, is the principle of racism (TLP, pp. 56-57), an observation that echoes Oliva’s own perspective (Carroli 2015c). In Mala suerte Basilica’s concern that the media will blame the murders solely on immigrants even though the culprits are generation-old citizens of Bologna, underlines that fear of the immigrant is often unfounded. Conversely, narrow-minded right-wing Bolognese are silent in response to the exploitation of immigrant women by local pimps (Fuego, p. 232). The worst example of exploitation and violence carried out against women is perpetrated against a young Chilean woman, who migrated to Bologna with confidence in a Peruvian family friend who instead sexually exploits her and allows her rape by the gang members.

Oliva’s characterisation is very precise, her attention to detail almost manic. Such mastery results in unforgettable portrayals. Her method is to exaggerate the faults of unsavoury, greedy, violent characters while foregrounding the trustworthiness of others – whether they are Italians or foreigners. Most characters appear in all three novels, with some exceptions. The picturesque world of the Bolognese noche, as Oliva remarks (Carroli 2015c), has been exaggerated for fictional reasons, along with the characters’ desire to escape into a different self at night. Rather than being divided by gender, ethnicity or culture, characters are either open-minded, honest and dedicated to their work or greedy, manipulative and violent; no one, except Catalina perhaps, is perfect. For example, the immaculately beautiful director of the forensic team, Virginia, is often described as clumsily stuffing herself and spilling food (TLP, p. 113). Oliva, balancing unforgiving or flattering depictions with humour to encapsulate characters’ faults or worth, clearly reveals her ideological standpoint – ultimately there is free will therefore everyone is responsible for their actions, and bad deeds have repercussions. Philosophical conversations about such topics often occur in Catalina’s kitchen where forensic science meets the culinary and the language of alchemy. This melange of cultures, mythology and scientific investigative approaches proves very effective in solving the murders. Criminological studies taught La Guerrera that motivations for crime are often elementary and revolve around three main catalysts: power, greed or money, sex or revenge. Similarly to evil (Arendt 1963), incentives for murder are also frequently banal (MS, p. 217). If vengeance is the reason behind the murders in TLP and money in MS, power is the motivation for the attempted murder in Fuego. Retribution, overall Guerrera-style, is carried out by the protagonist or other women against exploiters and undeserving privileged individuals, poetic justice prompted by the sluggishness of the legal system. The suspected culprit in the salsa murders in TLP is still awaiting trial by the end of the trilogy. By delaying clues and closure, Oliva keeps the suspense high throughout the trilogy, the “hanging” finale certainly leaves the reader hoping for more.

However, Oliva has indicated that her protagonist, having grown throughout the trilogy, has reached her destination (Carroli 2015c). Genre-wise, the series, as is typical of Italian noir, mixes characteristics of various genres and subgenres: the devices of investigative fiction, realistic representation of exploitation and violence in the workplace, the psychological transformation characteristic of the feminist and noir novels of the 1970s and 1980s, adding however an anthropological transculturation (Rama 2012) of the police staff within the text, and extradiagetically, of readers. In terms of gender, it places at the centre of the trilogy two strong women, La Guerrera, a dark multifaceted evolving protagonist, and the sunny Catalina, her alter ego. In the first novel, the Guerrera spends most of her nights drinking, smoking, eating junk food and having sex, as a way of shutting out death (TLP, p. 182). Her hardness and impulsiveness in the first novel gradually give way to reflection and a growing awareness of the weight of her past on her present in Fuego, where she literally and metaphorically goes through fire (Barbari 2014). In Mala suerte the protagonist finally finds some material and existential security and serenity. The final stage of this development is redemption by acceptance, involving a series of steps. The first is understanding that her mother was unable to show her love, or make a conscious decision, because she was in the grip of uncontrollable depression and therefore unable to fathom the terrible consequences her action would have on her daughter: “Allora io non le bastavo?” [So I was I not enough for her?] (MS, p. 106). The second is acknowledging that she is not responsible for her mother’s death because she went out to buy bread (MS, p. 166). The final step involves the externalisation of her deeply ingrained grief because, “If we cannot feel sadness, we cannot complete the work of mourning that helps us recover from losses so that we can form new attachments” (Bloom 1999, p. 8).

The regenerative power of salsa, Catalina’s loyal and supportive friendship, Inspector Basilica’s esteem and more will lead the protagonist to realise that imperfection is beauty. A rebel with many causes, Elisa Guerra’s involvement with crime-solving is imbued with a hunger for honesty and fairness, a gritty ethical imperative to free the subaltern, including herself, from exploitation, be it psychological, sexual or economic.

The trilogy traces La Guerrera’s trajectory out of her spiritual and material hell. At the beginning of Fuego, La Guerrera had exteriorised her dark mood brought on by lack of appropriate employment: 

Bologna e le sue strade bastarde. Quelle anguste e traditrici del centro storico, impregnate di olezzi centenari – muri decrepiti, muffa [...] Bologna, selciato in fiamme, che al tramonto rosseggia come la città di Dite dantesca (Fuego, p. 11)

Bologna and its damned streets. Those narrow and treacherous alleys of the city centre, impregnated with centuries-old stench – decrepit walls, mould [...] Bologna, with its flaming cobblestones, which at sunset redden like Dante’s city of Dite.

In the last novel, however, the protagonist finally has developed the courage to repossess from her aunt her slice of city centre, the apartment inherited from her dead parents. She also metaphorically reclaims Bologna’s medieval heart, tainted by the gang violence of the book’s opening – the killing of the elderly woman (MS, p.17). Having reconciled with her past traumas, sustained by the divine text which with its uncontaminated language allowed her to unmask the crimes and hypocrisy that had tainted her world (Pegorari 2012), an unusually calm Guerrera reflects on her whereabouts:

Perché sono finita in questa strada che porta dritto dritto alle Due Torri? L’albergo, non di lusso, [...]. Voleva riaccompagnarmi a casa, ma avevo bisogno di aria [...]. E ora eccomi qui, a tacchettare nell’antica strada che dal cuore di Bologna porta a Ravenna (MS, p. 136, original italics).  

Why have I ended up on this street that leads straight to the Due Torri? The hotel. Not a luxury one, […]. He wanted to accompany me home, but I needed some air […] and here I am […] shoes spiking the ancient road that leads from the heart of Bologna to Ravenna.

La Guerrera unwittingly finds herself on the same road that from Bologna’s centre, represented as both Hell and Heaven on earth, ends up at Dante’s resting place, Ravenna. Salsa is no longer the only cleansing surrogate but means resolution with the past, and looking forward to a less precarious future, emotionally and materially.

With the trilogy of La Guerrera, her extraordinary protagonist, her fresh look at Bologna, her humorous portrayals, Marilù Oliva has exploded Italian crime fiction’s traditional gender characterisation and opened the genre to the world, while retaining crucial Italian noir topoi such as the concern with socioeconomic issues and the tension between the global and the local. By highlighting change, with a special focus on women and immigration and steeping global cultures and movements in a metaphysical dimension, Oliva avoids homogenisation by giving depth to what is often trivialised, highlighting especially what mezcla and transcultural exchange can bring to individuals and societies open to it. With this trilogy, and with her other work condemning violence against women, Oliva illustrates and continues the tradition of impegno, showing a strong sense of responsibility towards her readers and her society. Like her Guerrera protagonist, she too is a rebel with many causes.



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[1] To my knowledge this is the first academic article in English on Marilù Oliva. In Italian, see Pegorari (2012) and Barbaro (2014).

[2] Capoeira is an acrobatic Brazilian dance of African origins developed in Brazil by black slaves as a system of physical discipline and movements following the rhythm of music. To my knowledge Oliva’s Guerrera is the only noir protagonist who fights her battles with this ancient and rebellious dance.

[3] All translation are mine, unless otherwise stated.

[4] Besides Spanish, Portuguese, Medieval Florentine, Oliva’s multilingual novels include words in English, Urdu, and Bolognese dialect. The titles of all three books in the trilogy are in Spanish.

[5] Oliva’s first published essay, “Quel che resta di un giorno” [What remains of a day] (2008) focuses on the influence of the media on public perception of the 1980 bomb attack on Bologna station. This concern with media mis-reporting continues, especially in Mala Suerte with a reflection on how immigrants are often blamed for crimes committed by Italians. This theme is developed in Oliva’s latest two novels, Lo Zoo [The Zoo] (2014) and Le Sultane [The Sultanas] (2014) belong to the “Quadrilogia del tempo” [Tetralogy of time]. With Lo Zoo Oliva leaves Bolognese metropolitan noir to travel to an apparently picturesque Salento estate in southern Italy. Oliva’s synergy with and knowledge of Latin American cultures is palpable in her monograph on García Márquez (2010b) and in the Trilogy. She collaborates with several journals and websites and is editor-in-chief of the blog “Libroguerriero” [Warrior book]. She is also an active public figure against violence perpetrated on women. The anthology she edited Nessuna più. 40 autrici contro il femminicidio [No more women [murdered]. 40 authors against feminicide] (2013), supported by Telefono Rosa, a women’s helpline.

[6] See

[7] Impegno, the word denoting the engagement of Italian intellectuals with social and political issues, has been a constant characteristic of Italian crime literature and film since the mid twentieth century. The central concern of Leonardo Sciascia’s investigative literature was to reveal the criminal activities of the Sicilian mafia and its infiltration of all levels of Italian society. More recent examples have been the “romanzo d’inchiesta”, crime novels that use the realistic language of good journalism, rather than genre devices, to unmask the dark and corrupt side of official and institutional reality in the North East of Italy (Carlotto 2012), and Roberto Saviano’s dark journeys revealing to the entire world the insidiousness and brutality of Neapolitan camorra (Vermandere and Jansen 2010).

[8] For more information regarding immigration in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna see (

[9] For more information on the history of salsa in Bologna see and (accessed 26 March 2016)

[10] From Bari, Puglia, like the two brothers who opened the first salsa clubs in Bologna.

[11] Oliva declares, “She is not an Italian Lisbeth [Salander]! All she has in common with her is the height. Instead she resembles the comics and cartoon heroines of my adolescence, Cyber Six and Lady Oscar” from whomshe has inherited her epic strength (Carroli 2015c).

[12] “Immigrati, è l’Emilia Romagna il ‘luogo più ospitale’ il Italia” [Immigrants, Emilia Romagna is Italy’s most hospitable location], La repubblica, 13 July 2010 accessed 26 March 2016


Piera Carroli is Senior Lecturer in, and Convener of the Italian Studies Program at the Australian National University. She has published on literature, applied linguistics and pedagogy. Her most recent work is on the representation of otherness and mezcla in Italian noir. She was interviewed on SBS Italian Radio about her research on Marilù Oliva:


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The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction
Vol 2 No 1 2016
Editors: Barbara Pezzotti and Brigid Maher