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Carlotto, Massimo - 'Death's Dark Abyss' (translated by Lawrence Venuti)
Paperback: 152 pages (Feb. 2007) Publisher: Europa Editions ISBN: 1933372184

Raffaello Beggiato and an accomplice bungle the robbery of a jeweller's shop, and in an attempt to escape take two hostages, a young woman and her eight year old child. Raffaello "coked out of his brain" shoots and kills the hostages and is arrested, while his sidekick escapes with the loot. Raffaello is sentenced to life imprisonment, although he claims not to be the shooter, because he won't reveal the name of his accomplice.

Silvano Contin, the victims' father and husband sinks into an abyss of self pity and remorse. He buries himself in a pathetic routine of work, sleep and eating fast food. Then after 15 years Raffaello has developed incurable cancer, and Silvano receives a letter requesting his approval for a pardon, or a petition for a suspended sentence. At first he won't consider this but then as he thinks about his wife Clara's terrible last moments, and the accomplice who has escaped justice he changes his mind. This may be a way to find that accomplice, and finally get revenge and real justice for his lost family.

Meanwhile Raffaello dreams of getting his share of the robbery loot and spending his last months in the arms of Brazilian beauties. He wants to die in comfort rather than in the squalor of a prison hospital. Silvano begins to plot in order to prevent Raffaello enjoying even the precious last few months of his life.

Massimo Carlotto is the master of Italian noir, and this is another fine example of a really hard-boiled crime novel. The violence and the brutality are there to make you think about life's problems, and are integral to the characters and the plot. Any other actions would not be believable in the way Carlotto tells the story.

This story of two men linked by a terrible crime is a disturbing read and it is meant to be as it faces up to the problems of victim support, and the lack of rehabilitation facilities in the prison system. Carlotto himself served years in jail for a crime he did not commit and must be an expert on the failures and idiosyncrasies of the Italian judicial system.

Silvano has lost his wife Clara, and his son Enrico, and as far as he is concerned his life is over. He merely exists, and that is exactly how the perpetrator Raffaello feels in his prison cell. Silvano a traumatised once law abiding citizen given the opportunity, and the power, acts in a shocking, violent, and perhaps disturbingly understandable way.

By narrating each protagonist's story in the first person Massimo Carlotto takes us inside their minds to justify their actions, and then gives the story just a little surprising twist in the conclusion to keep us thinking way after we finish the book.

A short book of only 152 pages, but a memorable highly recommended one.

Norman Price, England
January 2008

Norman blogs at
Crime Scraps.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 12/04/2013 08:11