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The Complete Review: "Dark and, in part, extremely brutal stuff, but an interesting game of taking action and responsibility, of being able to -- and not being able to -- forgive and make sacrifices."

Date: Sep 4 2006

     Death's Dark Abyss begins with a brutal, stupid crime. Fleeing a robbery, Raffaello Beggiato and his sidekick hijack a car with a woman and her young son in it, both of whom wind up getting killed. Raffaello is caught, but his partner gets away with the loot. Raffaello is sentenced to life, but since he never reveals his accomplice's name the other responsible party remains free.
       The life sentence is little consolation to Silvano Contin, who lost his wife and son in the attack. And the thought that their killer is still loose -- Raffaello does claim he wasn't the shooter -- still eats away at him. His life is never the same, and he leaves his fancy job for a much more quiet, humble one.
       Fifteen years after the event that changed so many lives Raffaello finds out he has cancer -- but in this second life-sentence finds some hope. It might not be enough for an outright pardon, but he should be able to get a 'suspension of sentence due to illness.' And, once outside the prison -- and with the loot that his accomplice got away with, half of which is his due --, he should be able to flee to Brazil and at least live out his days in decent comfort.
       Contin is furious at the thought of Raffaello getting out jail, but then realises that it offers an opportunity for him as well: Raffaello has to get to the robbery-proceeds, meaning he has to get in touch with his old accomplice.
       So everybody has a plan -- and everybody has to take sometimes risky steps to get what they want. Contin has to voice at least some support for Raffaello's petition for the suspension of sentence, for example -- complete opposition would be embraced by the press, who would make it impossible for the authorities to let the killer see daylight.
       Blinded by his lingering fury and grief, Contin barrels ahead with his plan. It's well thought-out, for the most part, but not perfectly thought-out, which will come back to haunt him. But at least a few of the pieces fall into place, and he begins exacting revenge -- brutal revenge, showing no mercy. He's haunted by what his wife went through in her death-throes, and he wants others to feel that same near-infinite pain (and at least once he seems to be successful). And he's convinced he has a right to do what he does: For fifteen years I waited for something to happen, something that might give meaning to my pain, and now I was acting completely within my rights. And God was definitely not pulling the strings. God doesn't exist, I'm sure of it. Beyond life there's nothing but death's dark abyss.        Both Raffaello and Superintendent Valiani, who also wants to tie up the case after all these years, complicate some of Contin's plans. And Carlotto manages to surprise with a few of the turns the story takes.
       Ironically it is the criminals who are now largely harmless, and Contin who is a man gone wild, with nothing left to lose. It is a novel of considerable brutality, from the original crime to Contin's raging, but while there is little forgiveness there is considerable sacrifice in the novel, attempts at atonement of one sort or another. It doesn't really work out well for anyone, but then something with its roots in such a senseless waste shouldn't anyway.
       This is a real noir novel, and Carlotto does a good job with the genre. Contin is the typical protagonist who gets in over his head, driven to extremes by an extreme situation, and Carlotto makes him a properly ambiguous figure. The bulk of the book is presented in alternating chapters narrated by Contin and Raffaello, with Carlotto presenting two distinct and fairly convincing voices (and points of view).
       Dark and, in part, extremely brutal stuff, but an interesting game of taking action and responsibility, of being able to -- and not being able to -- forgive and make sacrifices.

The Complete Review

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