Giorgio Pellegrini has left his life of terrorism and crime behind. Or as far behind as is possible in thoroughly corrupt, amoral modern day Venice. For eleven years, Giorgio has been the owner of the restaurant La Nena,
the trendy place for politicians and businessmen to meet and exchange favours. Giorgio has a room swept clear of bugs at the back, where deals are made and often sweetened by the very discreet escort service he runs as a side business.
However, when Pellegrini discovers that his principal benefactor, local politician Sante Brianese, has tricked him out of €2 million of investments, he starts planning his revenge. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as Brianese is hand in glove with the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta. Yet Giorgio is not one to take such a slight lying down, even though he will have to resort to all his old tricks of the trade.
You need feel no pity for the main protagonist, as readers of the first book featuring Pellegrini, entitled The Goodbye Kiss, may well remember. This is no sedate citizen reluctantly drawn into his old criminal way of life. Instead, what we find here is a thoroughly unscrupulous and ruthless operator – he’s like Tom Ripley on steroids. He manipulates and uses everybody and everything, including his beautiful young wife Martina, and his business partner Nicoletta. He cheats and lies, and literally buries bodies where they might best implicate other people. His self-righteousness and casual approach to violence are simply breathtaking. And yet, despite all of this, you can’t help rooting for him, as there is something appealing about Giorgio. Could it be his refusal to be cowed into submission?
Noir is sometimes as much a state of mind as it is a genre in crime fiction. If we define noir as a black mood, through which we view the world in all its inescapable grimness, then Carlotto most certainly offers that. Sensitive readers may find the violence and unremitting pessimism off-putting, but there are lighter touches deftly interlaced with the dark psychology and social critique. There are glimmers of ironic humour throughout, for instance the repetition of the opening sentences of several chapters repeat the book’s title. ‘At the end of a dull day’ represents anything but the end of a day, which in turn has proved anything but dull. Some readers may also accuse Carlotto of misogyny, but the scenes of sexual perversity are handled rather delicately and obliquely. There are certainly no gratuitous, salacious violent details there, but it gives additional depth to the main character.
The author’s biography is nearly as interesting as his fictional characters’ lives. Back in the 1970s he was a member of a left-wing group, was falsely accused of murder, and ended up on the run in Mexico before being extradited back to Italy. His case became one of the most notorious in Italian law, dragging on for 18 years, but he was finally pardoned in 1993 and turned to writing, first an autobiography, then crime fiction. Much like his fellow crime writers in Greece, Latin America or South Africa, he claims that he does not have to invent stories, because the reality in his home country is far stranger and darker than any fiction.
A delightful combination of ominous and wry, lively and brooding, I look forward to discovering other Carlotto books, to see if they live up to the standard of this one.