Nine Days in October

Q and A

What inspired you to write this novel?

The impulse, as often for my novels, came from research that I carried out for a study on the forces of order and disorder in Italy. I was looking at the period from 1968 to the end of the century. Students, workers, and women were all agitating for change. It's a rich environment for intrigue. Let me note that, chronologically, this novel comes between Storm Track and League of Shadows, but it's being published after Tropic of Fear, which means that I've been working on the book for several years.

One of the side benefits was that I had time to visit most of the settings for the novel—London, Paris, Vienna, Washington D.C., and, of course, all the cities in Italy. The primary locations for Italy were Rome, La Spezia, Florence, Bologna, and Milan. The only location I didn't personally visit was the environs of Moscow.

Why did you decide to set the novel in 1988 rather than the present?

That question brings to mind an article I read not long ago on how setting a novel in the present has become, if not more difficult, at least quite different from setting it in the past. And the change was reputed to be cell phones! Once you have cell phones, everything changes. Instant and constant communication! By setting the novel in 1988, I could more easily complicate the action. At the time, most mobile phones were designed for installation in cars. Hand-held cell phones were bulky and still a rarity.

Even something as insignificant as how music was played enters the equation. Music CDs, introduced in 1982, surpassed record sales for the first time in 1988. Audio cassette players, one of which figures in the novel, dominated the consumer market. And, of course, there was no world wide web, no dial-up ISPs, no search engines.

The last twenty years or so have brought technological advances that change the nature of espionage and police work. So that mattered to me.

You mentioned your research on the forces of order and disorder in Italy during the latter part of the 20th century. What was it about that topic that appealed to you?

One of the things that appealed to me was simply ferreting out the complicated system behind the administration of state security in Italy. As a professor of Italian, I've always been interested in the country. But usually I've had to work either on Italian culture through the centuries or literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This topic gave me an opportunity to focus on what I was seeing in Italy during the occasions when my wife and I lived in the country and on later trips. Since 9/11 we're more habituated in this country to the sight of heavily armed guards at possible sites for terrorist attacks. But Italy has dealt with terrorism for quite some time and, as a result, has long had a very visible security system.

To pick just one example, many banks, even in smaller cities, have not only very elaborate cubicles for secured entry and exit but also post guards armed with submachine guns at their entrance. That can be disconcerting. I know that during my research for this novel I had submachine guns jabbed in my belly—and I don't think we're used to that! Of course, I was intruding on government facilities, some supposedly secret.

Can you comment more specifically on what you mean by "forces of order and disorder"? I assume you mean police forces and terrorists?

In part, yes, but a person needs to realize that in Italy, especially during the years when the so-called "strategy of tension" was in effect, which was an effort to turn the country to the right, the forces of disorder were not only criminals and terrorists but often police agents. And you can't simply just refer to police as if that were one unitary force. Italy has at least five police forces. Most people are familiar with the Carabinieri, military police, ultimately under the authority of the Minister of Defense, and possibly with the Polizia di Stato, the state police, under the Minister of the Interior. And less likely they may have heard of the Guardia di Finanza, the finance police, under the Minister of Finance. There are other forces, to cite two examples, the individuals who guard the borders and those who police the environment. For the latter, I'm referring to the Corpo Forestale dello Stato, or, at the provincial level, the NIPAF (Nuclei Investigativi Provinciali di Polizia Ambientale e Forestale). I doubt foreigners ever hear of them. And probably not much about the DIA, which is a police division that investigates the Mafia. With that, I've barely touched on the variety of police forces at work in Italy.

In the novel, you also refer to the intelligence services. Were they involved in acts that might have destabilized the government—or society in general?

Yes, they were. And not only the Italian secret services but also the American. CIA agents are credited with having run both "Red" and "Black" terrorist brigades. Under President Richard Nixon, in 1972, the U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, funneled 800,000 dollars to a right-wing general, Vito Miceli, who subsequently ran for parliament on the neo-Fascist ticket. The U.S. also funded two labor unions--the UIL and CISL., controlled by the Catholics. A 1976 report of the U.S. House of Representatives stated that the CIA had disbursed over 75 million dollars to Italian parties and candidates during the prior three decades. All this was in violation of the law.

The Italians have two major secret services, similar, I suppose to the CIA and the FBI in this country. In the novel I refer to agents of SISMI—the Service for Military Intelligence and Security—and SISDE—the civilian Service for Intelligence and Democratic Security. What many tourists don't realize is that many of the bombings that rocked Italy during the 60s and the 70s were the work of the political right, rather than of the leftists who were commonly blamed. I'm thinking of bombings like that of Piazza Fontana in Milan on December 12, 1969, or the one that destroyed part of the central train station in Bologna on August 2, 1980. As I say, these and similar events were later determined to have been carried out by forces of the far right, including agents of the secret services and other state institutions.

And, by the way, if I may go on a bit longer, the novel also makes use of other forces of state security like UCIGOS, which is the Central Bureau for General Investigations and Special Operations. That's a bureau in charge of the Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza, the secretive but much heralded NOCS commandos, the tactical arm of the State Police. The nation's Chief of Police, who figures in the action of Nine Days in October, oversees the Director of SAOS, the Antiterrorism and Special Operations Service. And then you have DIGOS agents—the Division for General Investigations and Special Operations.

That sounds like a complicated system and you haven't even mentioned criminals and terrorists! Other than in passing.

That's true. Italy is a country that, historically, has faced not only terrorist attacks—from a wide variety of sources, communist, neofascist, anarchist, separatist, nationalistic, and internationalist, but also organzied crime. And that doesn't mean just the Sicilian Mafia. The police have to deal with the Neapolitan Camorra, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Sardinian Anonima, and so forth. And then you have conspiracies like that involving the P2 Masonic Lodge, high ranking officials imputed to have been involved in numerous crimes and the near overthrow of democracy in Italy.

Is there anything else about this novel you'd like to mention?

We've focused mostly on background material and I don't want readers to be dismayed by the complexity of state security in Italy! That's a secondary matter. This novel's plot is driven by a father's determination to track down the gang that killed his youngest daughter and took his oldest hostage. What he doesn't realize is that those events are connected to a much wider conspiracy. That's the main focus of the thriller. I hope readers enjoy how that works out.

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