Nadia Dalbuono on ‘The American’, Italy, and mysteries of 9/11

Nadia Dalbuono has worked as a documentary director and consultant for sixteen years, and is author of The Few. She tells us about her new novel The American, which features the return of Leone Scamarcio. Read on to find out more about Nadia’s thrilling sequel, her fascination with Italian culture, and mysteries of 9/11. 

The American is the second novel in the Leone Scamarcio series. How did you find it returning to this character?

I was glad to return to the character. I wanted to explore how Scamarcio deals with the complex relationship with his father’s old associate Piero Piocosta; how he struggles to maintain these deeply conflicting interests. Scamarcio must grow and develop as the series progresses and that is a continual challenge.

You have said previously that crime fiction has always intrigued you. What are some of your favourite crime books?

I’m not sure whether it can strictly be categorised as a crime novel but Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is one of my all-time favourites. I think Lehane is a genius and his screen writing is always a cut above. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle was probably the story that sparked my interest in crime fiction. More recently, I’ve become a big fan of RJ Ellory, Michael Connelly, John Le Carrè and Lee Child. In my mind, Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye is the template for how to write the perfect mystery.

Where did your fascination with Italy and Italian culture begin?

It started in 2006 when I had to spend time in Rome for work. I began to read the newspapers and watch the news and was continually amazed by the stories I came across. Rome is only an hour and a half from London by plane but often it felt like a different world. There are some tales in recent Italian history which I think non Italians would find fascinating. (Italians however are sick of all the intrigue– they feel like they’ve seen it all and are understandably bored by foreigners remarking on it.)


Nadia Dalbuono

After spending 15 years working as a documentary film maker, did you find the transition to fiction writing
difficult or refreshing?

I found it refreshing. In my 15 years in TV I saw the creative process compromised by smaller budgets and increasing control from the channels. I love the freedom of writing; of being able to take an idea and run with it, wherever it may lead. I also enjoy being able to create my own dialogue after years of working with the thoughts of others. I used to spend hours in edits wishing people had phrased something differently. Now I can decide exactly what they say and how they say it!

One of the documentaries you worked on focused on the events of 9/11. Did your experience working on that film influence the writing of The American in any way?

That is an interesting question. The documentary I made on 9/11 dealt with children who had lost parents in the twin towers. It was a very difficult film to make but I will always remember it for the remarkable young people I met. What was common among these families was their unwillingness to countenance any type of conspiracy theory behind 9/11. And I completely understand that unwillingness. The pain is already so great that the very last thing you need is to add to your grief by thinking your own government might be behind the massacre. Before making the documentary, I didn’t really subscribe to any of the conspiracy theories out there.  But a question was raised in my mind when we filmed at ground zero. We travelled up to a very high floor of the new building on the site of what used to be WTC 7. And I remember noting that WTC7 was actually quite some distance from the twin towers. I hadn’t really grasped this from the footage. When I saw this distance for myself, I did wonder why WTC7 had just folded that day. And that does seem to be the key question still vexing some structural engineers…


One other, rather strange, experience that has stayed with me is that on 9/11 itself I happened to be interviewing an elderly German lady who had been seduced into selling West Germany’s defence secrets to the KGB. This lady was in her seventies, kept cats and liked to knit. When her sister rang up from downstairs and told us to turn on the TV, the first thing this former spy said on seeing the planes hit was ‘The Americans did this themselves.’ Then she just tutted as if it were some minor misdemeanour…

The American appears have thrown Leone from local crime to international crime. Was there a particular reason you decided to up the stakes?

I’m not sure there’s a particular reason. I’d learned about Italy’s years of terrorism through my work in documentaries and it was a period I wanted to write about because I think it explains a lot of what’s happening now. But there was no grand design in having Scamarcio move from local to international crime.


Leone’s mafia connections were a large source of inner conflict in The Few. Does this struggle continue in The American?

The struggle does continue and because of the high stakes nature of Scamarcio’s investigation, he must deal with even greater inner turmoil this time. But actually trying to resolve this struggle once and for all is more a matter for Book 3 which I’m writing at the moment.

Your stories seem to be heavily influenced by Italian landscape and architecture in particular. Are any of these locations places you have visited and thought ­­‘I just have to write about this’?

Italy is not short on locations that inspire you to write. But Rome and the Island of Elba were the two main places that gave me ideas for books. There’s a particular location near Varese in The American which is a walk I always used to take and have been determined to put in a novel ever since. I don’t want to say too much more about it here for fear of giving the game away…

For your next writing adventure do you think you will continue the Leone Scamarcio series or are you considering venturing down a new path?

I’m working on the third Scamarcio book at the moment and a fourth will follow. That said, I have an idea for a crime series set in Savannah, Georgia that I’d like to explore. I also have a hankering to write a novel set five years in the future from now… but at the moment it’s just the seed of an idea.

Does Leone Scamarcio make it through The American unscathed?

There’s a third book in the series so you can conclude that he makes it through alive. But unscathed is another thing entirely…

Find out more about The American here.

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