Tuesday, November 06, 2007
New Carofiglio novel
The Past is Another Country is a "stand-alone" crime novel by Gianrico Carofiglio, already known in English-speaking countries for his excellent, somewhat low-key series of legal thrillers set in Bari, on the east coast of Italy. The new book starts out something like a Patricia Highsmith novel, with Giorgio, a law student, coming under the influence of Francesco, a stronger personality who teaches Giorgio how to make money by cheating at cards and lures him further and further into Francesco's shadowy world. But what for the first third of the book seems to be a story about a gambling scam takes a sudden shift in the second third, when Giorgio's first-person narrative begins to alternate with a third-person narration about Lieutenant Chiti, a young detective with the Carabinieri. Forget Marshal Guarnaccia and the Carabinieri barracks of Magdalen Nabb's novels set in Florence: the paramilitary police in Carofiglio's novel are fiercely competing with the regular national police for big cases and their interrogation technique is to begin beating a suspect immediately upon catching up with him, ceasing only upon confession. There is also a distinct class difference between Chiti and his men (something also seen in Nabb's novels); Chiti is a product of officer's school, whereas the other men in his unit went straight from military training to the streets. In following Chiti, we learn about a serial sexual molester who has been beating and forcing fellatio on a series of young women; the Carabinieri have caught some of the cases and Chiti is under pressure to solve the case before the national police do. That process, and Chiti's own demons, occupy his sections of the rest of the book, alternating (loosely) with Giorgio's story, in which it becomes clear that Francesco is a "user" in the sense that he takes control of Giorgio without allowing the weaker young man any choice in what they do or when. Then the story departs from gambling, for the most part, concentrating on Giorgio's descent into a pointless, directionless way of life (whether under Francesco's influence or after being dropped by him). It's less suspense or mystery that drives the story than a fascination with seeing how low Giorgio can be dragged. There's a framing device, in which Giorgio is confronted by a woman whom he does not recognize at the beginning of the novel, setting the narration into motion--and, effectively, the woman returns at the end, her identity revealing the distance that Giorgio has traveled, in the story's events and in intervening years. It's an interesting story, effectively told, though without the sympathetic quality provided in Carofiglio's other books by the engaging personality of Guido Guerrieri, his running character in that series. The Past is Another Country is more noir, quite different from his other books, and a valuable addition to the cluster of Italian crime fiction available in English (rather than Italian stories by U.S. and U.K. writers who live or travel there, of which there has always been an abundance--more on that topic in my next couple of posts).