This sporty little import by acclaimed Italian writer Giorgio Faletti tries to take on the big, full-throttled thrillers wreaking havoc on recent international bestseller lists, but simply lacks the horsepower.
In ornate, overly fussy language, narrator Bravo starts off with a flashback to the fateful night his penis was lopped off. Although startling, the mutilation is announced so bluntly—and dismissed almost as quickly—that it comes off as more of a writer’s stunt than a true plot point. A gentleman pimp by trade—serving some of Milan’s most powerful citizens—and possessing the obligatory heart of gold, Bravo’s world ranges from street-level gambling joints, seedy nightclubs, and shabby apartments to the opulent digs of some of his wealthiest clients. This includes a swank villa in Lesmo, outside of Monza, where a vicious massacre leaves several “very important people”—and several of Bravo’s girls—slaughtered, and Bravo the number one suspect.
It’s a frame, of course, but it leaves the hapless procurer pursued by not just the police but by gangsters and terrorists as well. Considering the political and social volatility of the time—it’s 1978 and former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro has just been kidnapped by the Red Brigades—you have a potential powder keg of a plot.
But it never quite gels. Perhaps it’s the translation, or even cultural differences, but more likely it’s simply that Faletti overwrites the story. The polite, aloof Bravo is too fond of his own voice, and as the story unfolds, his philosophical musings start to resemble the cryptic word puzzles, of which he’s so inordinately fond, to the point where one wishes he’d just shut up and get on with it.
Because the story itself is so solid—an innocent man caught in a rapidly closing noose; a swirling cascade of betrayals both predictable and shocking; a grudging, surprisingly tender relationship between adversaries that is strikingly nuanced—readers may forgive the overly cool detachment and overly convenient coincidences.