Carofiglio, Gianrico - 'The Past is a Foreign Country' (translated by Howard Curtis)
THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is the first non-series crime novel by Gianrico Carofiglio to appear in English. (Three legal thrillers by Carofiglio featuring lawyer Guido Guerrieri are also available in English).
The hero (or rather anti-hero) Giorgio, is a slightly naive social climbing 22 year old law student, who comes to the attention of charming sociopath Francesco at a party. Francesco entices him away from the comfortable but every so slightly stultifying world of well to do, respectable Bari into a rather seedier world of big stakes poker games and casual sex. Giorgio soon loses all interest in legal studies, and starts to socialise only with Francesco, earning a vast amount of money through rigged poker games he participates in with Francesco. Giorgio all too easily sets aside all moral quibbles, assisted by Francesco's glib justifications. All seems to be going well, until a holiday in Spain with Francesco proves to be a rather less relaxing experience than Giorgio anticipated, when Francesco reveals he is planning to import a kilo of cocaine.
Whilst the tale of the corruption of Giorgio is unfolding, a Lieutenant Chiti investigates a series of brutal sex attacks that are taking place in Bari. Lieutenant Chiti is a surprisingly sensitive Carabinieri officer, prey to frequent migraines and self-doubt. Brought up by a cold remote army officer father, he has never recovered from the suicide of his mother when he was 9 years old.
These two strands of the novel interconnect after a drug-induced episode where Francesco seeks to introduce Giorgio to his "destiny", and the novel draws to a conclusion which is satisfyingly realistic, leaving some loose ends and ambiguity regarding Francesco and his deeds.
THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is an intriguing psychological thriller, and at the same time a "rites of passage" novel regarding the gradual corruption of Giorgio. As ever Carofiglio writes concisely and convincingly about his main characters, and about the wild side of Bari. Carofiglio's "day-job" as an anti-Mafia judge in Southern Italy clearly gives him an excellent insight into the characters of the criminal fraternity. My only quibble was with the secondary strand of the novel, the sex crime investigation. Whilst having this as a separate strand of the novel was good at building up suspense towards the conclusion, I found that Lieutenant Chiti remained a rather shadowy character, with little development beyond his evident bundle of neuroses. Overall, THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is yet another well-written yet easy to read gem of a novel by Carofiglio.
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Laura Root, England