Q: You co-authored (with Paolo Vagheggi) a book on terrorism called The Prosecutor. Tell us about that experience.
Nabb: That book got me into so much trouble. I still cant publish it here in Italy. I was called into the police station, I was threatened, and my phone was tapped. I dont know exactly what they suspected me of. Since I made the story up, I have no idea, so I cant defend myself. I had been following Vagheggis journalism for years when he called me and said he wanted to write something on the Moro kidnapping with me. He was a good reporter and I had often made use of his crime reports. I said, Im interested in it but I cant possibly do the research. It went back to the sixties, before I moved to Italy. He, on the other hand, had reported on terrorism since its beginnings. So he provided the information about the history and structure of the Red Brigades and some contacts. But my only real contact for that book was the Prosecutor himself. We had a number of discreet meetings and dinners, outside the city. He had to dodge his bodyguards to do that but he himself was always armed. He enjoyed it, I think. Very James Bond.
Q: What specific problems did you and Paolo Vagheggi encounter?
Nabb: Both of our phones were tapped. And Id had the Avvocato di Stato-- hes the Prosecutor who prosecutes on behalf of the state in cases of terrorism-- come after me. I didnt realize who he was. Vagheggi called me one evening and said, Have you had something wrong with your telephone, today? And I said, Yes. He said, Did something happen to do with the book? I said, Well, yes. Last night I went to give a lecture and this man stood up and started asking me really weird questions. It was a rotary club thing. I said I didnt know who it was. We hadnt told anybody about the book and, though we had a publisher for it here, we hadnt talked about it all while we were writing it. Wed just finished it, in fact and then this man started asking me these questions. He said, So, youve got a lot of contacts with the Red Brigades and the IRA and you probably know a lot about the contacts you have? I said, No, I really dont. I found his attitude very menacing. When I told Vagheggi about the incident, he said, Well, theyve tapped our phones and that will be the reason why. And then he was approached by a Colonel in the secret services at a reception that he was reporting on. In the book theres a Colonel called Tempesta, which means storm. The Colonel from secret services--now, nobody had read this book as far as we knew, it wasnt published--this Colonel came up to Vagheggi and said, Its a nice evening, but I think theres a storm in the air. What do you think, Vagheggi? So we knew theyd read the book. They could only have done that by getting the manuscript from the publisher after questioning me after that lecture. The next thing that happened was that the manuscript came back to us with a letter from the publisher saying theyd changed their minds about publishing itbecause Nobodys interested in terrorism. So I published it in England and Germany, America and Japan. Anyhow, that whole business was pretty scary.
Q: Do you think you were at risk when you encountered this situation?
Nabb: Theres not much chance of that since theyre so arrogant. The people who do these things hardly bother to hide them. There was no reason to kidnap Aldo Moro in broad daylight when he was under armed escort so that all his bodyguards had to be killed, making a huge and bloody spectacle. No reason at all. Moro took a walk alone in a very deserted park every morning of his life. There was no reason to do what they did, except for show. The kidnapping was done by Moretti who had infiltrated the Red Brigades early on and worked his way to the top by reporting on those above him so as to get them arrested. The Red Brigades would never have kidnapped Moro, it was Morettis idea, on behalf of right wing elements in the government and secret services. They were the ones who presumably didnt want the book to come out. I had imagined things that were too close to the truth, as I realized later when they were sacked from their posts. Often, theres the question of their not reacting to certain claims because it would draw attention to them and add to their veracity. Anyway, I write fiction and Im not interested in polemic. It was quite a scary episode.
Q: The character Prosecutor Lapo Bardi was absolutely wonderful, too bad they had to kill him.
Nabb: Thats what my English editor said. She said, Cant he get better so he can be in another book? But he had to go. Thats the whole point, the point being, so long as he maintained his stance--he was really aggressive, very calculating and very inhuman. Then, when something happened to soften him up, when he suddenly became human and vulnerable, he was killed. If you didnt kill him there was no point to the story, was there?
Q: So now are you cautious about the cases you write about?
Nabb: I never back off. Well, Im not interested in polemic anyway, I write fiction. Its probably best not to publish that Moro kidnapping book here in Italy because it would cause never ending trouble. And of course, the true story never really became generally known. Everyone knows what the trouble with Moro was, of course, and that was the compromesso storico the historic compromise which would have allowed the communists, who had the majority of voters, to share in government. Moro who was close both to the pope and to Berlinguer, the leader of the communist party, had set this up and so signed his own death warrant. If the communist party were to be allowed a share in government, they would have had access to all of Natos secret information. The cold war was still on and the U.S. wouldnt have it.
A similar book based on a real event was The Salamander by Morris West which was about Gladio. Gladio is the name of the double-edged Roman sword (as used by gladiators) and it was an undercover campaign, with military and intelligence units, to control and subvert Italian democracy from World War II until 1990 when, on the fall of communisn, it was disbanded. Its headquarters were in Sardinia where an Italian militia was trained with the pretense of defending Italy from incoming hordes of Russian communists. Its real purpose was to fight Italian communists should they come close to having any power or attempt an insurrection. It was a huge, nationwide organization, practically a parallel state and it did attempt a coup détat to oust the elected government but it failed. So, when Moro attempted the historic compromise
The Sardinian bases are still there. Last summer, I was in Sardinia on a beach looking out to sea at the Tavolara, a snow white flat-topped mountain lying out in the turquoise sea. It would be beautiful to sail a boat out to the white mountain but it cant be done. Under the water, hidden from holiday makers, the mountain is hollowed out. Its an American submarine base and you cant go within miles of it. A huge explosion sent up a great plume of smoke as I watched. It wasnt reported. A great deal of money is paid to the Italian government for the use of the Sardinian bases but none of it goes to Sardinia which remains very poor, its people very angry.
(Magdalen Nabb attended the Bouchercon 2001 Mystery Convention, November 1-4, 2001 in Arlington, VA. Participating on a panel, she was asked the following question about terrorism:)
Q: Will the events of September 11th impact what you write?
Nabb: It wont change what I write. Ive lived with terrorism for more than twenty years. Ive written a book about terrorism. What I think is that something will change for you. I lived with it for a long time and written about it. I dont offer any sort of easy comfort. I do offer the fact that life goes on and I offer my good marshal to hold your hand as you go. I think people need stories. When were small and were afraid of the dark we need stories and I write stories for children. But I think that we all need stories all of our lives. When we see chaos in the world, we want to be told stories that help us make sense of it. We want what is fashionably called closure. And closure is not necessarily an easy answer. Its not the little bloodstain on the carpet in the library thats removed and everybody goes back to their rightful places in the class system, like in an Agatha Christie novel. I dont offer that because its not helpful--its escapism. But closure in a story does help to make some order out of chaos. So, it wont change my world because terrorism is part of it and has been as long as Ive been writing. It will change yours, though, and I think were more interested to hear from you on this than you are from us. Because I think that what is needed now is constant vigilance which is the price of your freedom. Up to now I think there hasnt been a price put on freedom here. And now the real world has arrived. There is a price and--its not about being careful how you open your mail--its not about being wary when youre on top of a high building--its about being careful of legislation thats pushed through on the back of these events for the purposes required by politicians. We suffered this dreadfully in Italy. Your freedom is there. Your freedom is the rule of law and hard cases make bad law. There are those who will take advantage of your fear and distress and make laws pushed through in the middle of the night. Ive seen laws pushed through on New Years Eve, at midnight that nobody ever notices. Thats where your freedom lies. In your own country, in your own rule of law. And people will try and push through a lot of very, very iffy legislation on the back of these events. You must be vigilant. Defend your constitution.