Loving Italy to Death: PW Talks with David P. Wagner
September 12, 2016

How did your love affair with Italy begin?

I first went to Italy on a high school tour of Europe, but serious interest began with my arrival in Milan, when I could speak the language and really get into things Italian. My job as a press and cultural officer at the consulate brought me into daily contact with a fascinating group of Italians who were kind enough to share their enthusiasm for their country. Milan of course has everything that makes Italy unique: history, art, and food. The seed was planted.

What made you decide to write mysteries?

My first book was in fact nonfiction, on the origin of street names in Rome, a topic that always fascinated me. When that didn’t sell, I went with the old dictum of writing what you love—mysteries, in my case—and what you know, which was Italy. The big three Italy-based mystery authors for me—Dibdin, Leon, and Camilleri—helped push me toward Italy as well. Also, after retiring, I spent several years writing tourist materials on Italy, and I got to the point where I wanted to add stories of my own to the towns I was writing about.

When and how did the character of Rick evolve?

Rick was in the game from the first attempt, and he didn’t change that much through multiple rejections. Again it was the “write what you know” thing, so he became the son of a diplomat, with roots in New Mexico, where I was living at the time. I’ve always enjoyed languages, so making him a translator/ interpreter allowed me to indulge in such matters as pointing out interesting words in both languages. Being dual-national lets him see Italians through the eyes of an American, and Americans from an Italian viewpoint, so I get to show both sides. Rick has evolved somewhat over the four books, becoming perhaps a bit more cynical, but he’s still essentially a good guy, often unlucky in love, with an occasional rough side to him.

Would you ever set a mystery outside Italy?

The recurring theme in the series is that Rick finds himself each time in a different Italian town. It will be a while before I run out of great places where he can find dead bodies, eat regional dishes, and drink local wines.

Are you working on a new Rick Montoya novel?

I’m well into number five. It takes place in Mantova, one of my favorite towns in Italy, and starts with a body found floating in the Mincio River below the castle. Mantova lends itself to mystery, and there will be a lot of Po Valley fog and chill to add to the atmosphere.—

A version of this article appeared in the 09/12/2016 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Crime and Culture in Italy