Filler content with an Italian

I was going to write a nice long blog entry today about something interesting, but apparently I have gardening to do.

So here’s another review from the old TTA website, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, this time originally posted on 20 November 2007:-

THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY by GIANRICO CAROFIGLIO
(Old Street Publishinghardback, 288pp, £12.99)

Giorgio is a young man with a promising future, but then he falls under the spell of the charismatic Francesco, who lures him into a life of debauchery. Francesco teaches him how to cheat at cards, and at first they only swindle those who deserve or can afford to be gulled, but then as easy marks become hard to find anyone is a target. In other areas of his life Giorgio is persuaded to compromise on his own standards, abandoning his studies to be a lawyer and cheating on his girlfriend, getting drawn ever deeper into a life of crime and lulled by the ease with which everything falls into his lap. Concurrent with this is another plot strand in which a lieutenant of caribinieri is investigating a series of attacks on women, with the violence mounting each time. As the two strands near each other, Giorgio faces hard choices about his future and must question where his own boundaries lie.

Written by an anti-Mafia prosecutor, this is a crime novel with an emphasis on psychology over action and a convincing study of how evil corrupts. Each step of Giorgio’s fall from grace is carefully documented and follows on perfectly from the previous one, so that it all makes sense of a kind, with the reader able to understand the appeal of illegality and how moral boundaries can so easily become blurred. We also get a look into the life of the carabinieri officer investigating the attacks on women, with some of his back story filled in, the family influences that shaped the man he became, in their way neatly dovetailing with Giorgio’s situation, so that the two men are opposite sides of the same coin. The details of the sex attacks are credible, with intriguing insights into the psychology of such a sexual predator. On the other hand I wasn’t particularly taken with what the book had to tell me of Italian police methods, with the two competing forces of police and caribinieri, and the beating up of suspects, but given the writer’s past career I can only assume there’s some truth in this depiction of incompetence and brutality, however unpalatable.

Ultimately, like much of the best crime fiction, this is a book of character, the tale of two different men and how they react to the catalyst of Francesco, about the seductive quality of evil and the allure of the sociopath. As such it works very well, though one might wish there was a little bit more to it, while the ending all seemed somehow bittersweet and inconclusive, not providing the closure I’d hoped for, but I guess that can be put down to art imitating life.

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