Federico Maria Rivalta, 59 years old, has a magnetic gaze, which he offsets with a roguish smile. And there has been no shortage of reasons to smile since this finance veteran became a best-selling detective fiction writer. Rather like the protagonist of his detective stories, Riccardo Ranieri, the clumsy journalist from Il Mattino di Padova who turns himself into a detective and solves criminal cases in Venice, in between gaffes and witty quips. “It’s he who has copied me,” jokes Rivalta. Besides the sense of irony, Federico shares a passion for cigars and golf with the protagonist of his novels. “I'm a fan of detective fiction, but I was fed up with the usual protagonists with no flaws or fear. So I invented the antihero Riccardo Ranieri."

A late vocation

Never was intuition more felicitous: published in 2012 on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the Amazon service which allows anyone to publish an unpublished work, his Un ristretto in tazza grande has had extraordinary success. It was an exceptional outcome which enabled Rivalta to be noticed by Amazon Publishing, Amazon's traditional publishing house, which has made him one of their leading authors, with seven books to his credit (the eighth to be published in May), over 100,000 copies sold and his work translated into English and German, thanks to the AmazonCrossing service for translated fiction. For a former banker, it was a real revolution.

Lo scrittore Federico Maria Rivalta legge un libro sul portico di casa con un pastore tedesco ai suoi piedi.
Photo by ROAR Studio

"I discovered writing late," he says. “Born and bred in Milan, I have always worked in finance. But it wasn't a career I had set my heart on: I went to high school like my friends, then I studied Economics and Business because it was what my family expected of me after graduation. So I found myself doing a very lucrative, successful job, but... one that didn't belong to me. I felt increasingly restless, but how could I complain?" On this path he had already taken, the first turning point came 13 years ago. "I accepted a transfer to Padua; I, who had always lived in the centre of Milan, was off to live in a cottage among the Euganean Hills.”

Thank you, insomnia!

However, even in the new environment, Federico continued to spend his days amid numbers and market forecasts. "Because of my anxiety, I started to suffer from insomnia. I was 50 years old and asking myself, is this the life I want? To tell the truth, I had changed the 'where', but not the 'what', and my body was communicating my unhappiness to me. During these forced vigils, I read novels. I read a great many of them.” Then, one day, a flash of inspiration: "What if I write a detective story with an atypical protagonist?"

Federico drafted about a hundred pages and showed them to his girlfriend: "She laughed at every line," he recalls. "It spurred me on to keep going." Two years later, the book was finished. "There were two routes open to me: taking it to a small publisher, who might have had some difficulty publishing it, or to a big publisher, who might not have considered me at all. I chose the third option: I published myself, through Kindle Direct Publishing.” It was an immediate success: the public appreciated it, Rivalta sold. “At which point Amazon Publishing suggested that I join their team of authors." Something which had begun as a bit of a game had opened up a real window of opportunity.

Federico wondered whether writing might be his true calling. "I had been thinking about it for a while. I had some savings put aside, I could try to quit my job. Finally I decided to take the plunge. Some friends encouraged me, others called me crazy, my mother almost passed out, but I was determined to give it a try. Actually, I was caught up in a total frenzy: I wrote at the bar, on the bus, on the train." When the second novel came out, the number of readers and his confidence went up. It was a confirmation.

Federico Maria Rivalta: un’insonnia da oltre 100.000 copie
Photo by ROAR Studio

Power to the imagination

"I’m leading the life I dreamt of: I live in a cottage with my German shepherd, like Ranieri. I play golf. In the morning I get up calmly, I go out, and in the afternoon I write." Rivalta's imagination is fuelled by the reality surrounding him: "I take my inspiration from what I see. The tragicomic exploits of my friends, the inquisitive neighbour, the grumpy tobacconist... everything speaks to me," he explains. "Although, after so many years, as allergic as I am to routine, I'm contemplating a new twist: a move to Syracuse." And of course, Riccardo Ranieri will follow him.

In the meantime, the rights to the printed version of Un ristretto in tazza grande have been acquired by a well-known traditional Italian publishing house, opening the doors of physical bookshops to the novel. Federico has something to be proud of: "I owe a lot to Amazon. Without the possibility of self-publication, I would have been chained to a life that I didn't feel was mine. Now my mother has stopped worrying about the job that I left and she laps up the compliments of her friends – my readers. And for me, at 59, the time has come to change the 'profession' entry on my identity card from senior executive to writer. Sounds good, doesn’t it?” It sounds fantastic.