Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar
“This was underworld business: it was a mathematical certainty that it was going to end badly… Somebody was going to die. That was the only thing we knew for sure as the car raced eastward in the night.”
It starts with a kidnapping that makes little sense, and moves nonstop into one of the most enjoyable literary treats I’ve read this year. Even though this crime novel is serious business, there’s an air of humor that surrounds a trio of ex-cons and bad guys that are called in to solve the crime. Yep, these guys, having paid their dues as tough guys and retired from that life of crime, now just want to sit back and drink Calvados, eat pasta, and listen to the blues. Except for the lead, Marco Buratti, who also happens to be addicted to home shopping television shows.
The action is non-stop as it crosses through Italy and into the Balkans as the three men try to solve two mysteries. They had previously got involved in a hit that went wrong, the moral of which was, “know who you do business for and why before you shoot someone.” Since they didn’t obey that rule, they have to backtrack and solve that before the kidnapped woman can be found.
The characters that they run into are just that: characters. Carlotto makes them memorable, with little clues that make them feel much more complicated than just a simple definition of “bad guy”. Drug smugglers have egos and their own tragic flaws, of which these experienced searchers exploit, while at the same time they lament,
“Why do Mafiosi always seem to have one useless son?”
This leads to an amusing conversation as they analyze The Godfather and The Sopranos to point out just which characters were intellectually-challenged. The rapport between the three is priceless, as they unquestionably back each other up, which would seem unlikely for the world they live in. And what a world that is, when drug smuggling and police corruption is impossibly powerful, with so many innocents thrown into the conflict.
I can’t even begin to explain why this book was so much fun, given the subject matter was serious and at times, appalling. Perhaps it’s the universal simplicities that unite everyone-good or bad-the power of a good meal? A view of the sea? The comfort of a regular table at the trattoria?
Special thanks to Europa Editions for the Advance Review Copy.