Costantini, Roberto - 'The Deliverance of Evil' (translated by N S Thompson)
Commissario Michele Balistreri is a handsome young man who is easily able to find young women to sleep with him and then he moves on, without a backward glance to his next conquest. His brother, Alberto, and friends despair of him. On the day of the World Cup final in 1982 he calls on his friend, Angelo, at his work in an Vatican office in a private residential complex and sees the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Elisa Sordi is a saint, he is told, out of his reach. When she is reported missing, Balistreri is called away from the match, unwillingly since Italy is winning, to investigate. Drunk, annoyed and frustrated at missing the action, he makes a cursory examination. When her mutilated body is recovered from the river, he finally realises the impact of his less than perfect enquiry.
In 2006, the Italian team is again in the final and the whole country has caught World Cup fever again and Balistreri heads Rome's Special Section. When the body of a young woman is found, Balistreri is alone in trying to keep an open mind when the local Roma community are accused of harbouring the criminals who assaulted and killed her. Three young men are charged with the crime but more deaths occur and Balistreri and his team slowly uncover a conspiracy linking the government, the Vatican and certain members of the police forces. He remembers Elisa’s unsolved death and begins to see connections.
Aware of his faults after the death of Elisa, Ballistreri’s life and health have suffered over the years. To discover the truth about Elisa's death and to find the killer, he must identify all the lies that he is being told. He is joined in his search by Linda Nardi, a freelance reporter, but her motives are not as clear cut as they seem. She has knowledge of the crimes that have been kept back by the investigators and Balistreri develops an emotional tie to her that hinders rather than helps.
I found this a slow burner and since it runs to over 600 pages, was prepared to give it up a couple of times. However, something appealed and I read on and I am glad I did. More literary than the usual crime novel, this investigates several themes on top of the apparent serial killer at large. The conflict between the Vatican, the local politicians and the central Italian government is detailed and makes interesting reading. The impact of immigration from the Eastern European states is also very pertinent and made me consider how this subject is being manipulated in our own press at this time.
This is the first of a trilogy of novels featuring Michele Balistreri and I will be looking out for the others.
Susan White, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.