Abu Dhabi a perfect setting for a crime-thriller, says Italian writer Donato Carrisi

We speak to crime writer Donato Carrisi about what makes a good crime novel and his new television series.

Italian author Donato Carrisi at Abu Dhabi Book Fair. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Budding fiction writers of the UAE, take note – crime writer Donato Carrisi believes Abu Dhabi would make the ideal setting for a ­murder-mystery novel.

The Italian author – whose debut novel The Whisperer (2011), about a police hunt for a depraved child murderer, sold more than a million copies worldwide – shared his thoughts on ingredients required to write a best-­selling giallo (Italian thriller) at the recently concluded Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

“In Abu Dhabi, there are so many little cities within the city, and so many skyscrapers – perhaps for people to push each other off,” says Carrisi.

But aren’t most of the world’s best-selling crime stories set in cold climes? Think of chillers by Swedish Stieg Larsson and Norwegian Jo Nesbo, both of whom Carrisi has been compared to owing to his suspenseful style.

“I think that because crime stories are usually set in cold places, it would be amazing to create a story in Abu Dhabi, which is a hot place, and understand how to develop it,” says Carrisi. “The claustrophobic summer heat would absolutely work well in a thriller.”

Carrisi’s hometown of Rome, with its rich history, provides him with plenty of fodder when he is writing his page-turners.

“Rome is a place of contradiction, where people – both good and bad – go hand in hand,” says the 43-year-old. “It’s an obvious place for a murder mystery to occur. Look at the Colosseum, which was a place where men were killed for the enjoyment of the audience. Now the Colosseum is one of the most-visited places in Italy. Tourists love to take selfies here without considering that this was once a place of great terror and sorrow. Evil has become an attraction.”

Carrisi explains that although his novels are all based on real people and events, a strong dose of fiction is always woven in. “So far this method has worked for me,” he says. “But the real challenge is working out how to adapt the truth to create a ­masterpiece.”

Several of Carrisi's books tackle the theme of the unexplained disappearances of girls in Rome, such as The Whisperer (2011), The Lost Girls of Rome (2013), and The Vanished Ones (2014). He recalls being inspired by the true story of a lady who disappeared in Rome in the early 1980s.

“The disappearance is very much linked to the Vatican, because the lady’s father used to work for Vatican City. Almost certainly there are reasons we don’t know for her disappearance – maybe a pact between the people and God, for which human blood was needed.”

Despite the goriness of his subject matter, Carrisi claims he’s not fond of using violence in his stories.

“Real fear doesn’t come from violence, but from everyday life. There’s nothing better than hearing a kid’s laughter. But that same laughter can also create fear if you don’t have kids yourself and you hear it at night.”

Carrisi studied criminology and behavioural science before going on to write crime stories. He claims that although it’s not essential for authors in his genre to become experts in criminology, getting face to face with real criminals can give a writer invaluable insights.

“Anybody potentially can become a killer,” he says. “Not all killers are evil. The serial killers I’ve met were very normal. It’s remarkable how much they’re like myself in their habits. One serial killer used to donate money to an association created to protect kids. But he also used to kill kids.”

The popularity of Carrisi's stories hasn't gone unnoticed in Hollywood. His books are about to be adapted into a television series, Sixth Sense, by Hollywood producers eager to repeat the success of conspiracy thrillers such as The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

“I am, of course, very excited about this – it is the first time that Hollywood has taken notice of my work and I will be the author of this series,” says Carrisi, who has previously written TV series and movies for Italian television.

He is also currently working on the third in his series of books set in Rome to be adapted for Sixth Sense – Master of the Shadow, and he is happy to reveal a crucial plot detail: "The main character, who is based on a real person, is a priest who is also a criminology specialist."