Massimo Carlotto


"Death's Dark Abyss"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage JAN 6, 2007)

"The power I had over these people went right to my head. My imagination had no limits. As soon as I’d come up with a request that would make them suffer, I felt I could push it further. But I had to stop the thing from becoming psychologically unmanageable to Siviero. And to do that, I had to make him believe I intended to bargain."

A murderer and his victims are inexorably tied together. Perhaps, over time, the murderer wants to forget and wants to move on for a variety of reasons, but the crime will always remain—even if the victims are long dead and buried. Massimo Carlotto’s stunning novel, Death’s Dark Abyss examines the after-effects of the murder of two innocent people, and if you like neo-noir fiction that is lean, mean and relentlessly dark, then this gripping novel is for you. Through his characters and their actions, the author eviscerates traditional notions of good and evil—those are standards that simply have no meaning in this tale of dark revenge, relentless hate, and the impossibilities of justice set in modern Italy. 

Fifteen years ago, a horrible senseless crime took the lives of Carla Contin and her 8-year-old son, Enrico when they were taken hostage during a botched jewelry robbery. One of the two crooks, Raffaello Beggiato, “boldly moving in an orbit beyond common sense” cold-bloodedly murdered Carla and Enrico, while his unknown accomplice managed to elude the police with the stolen loot.

While Beggiato claims that he was not the shooter, he refuses to reveal the name of his accomplice. Beggiato received a 30-year sentence, and he’s served exactly half of it. Against the mundane routine of the prison, he daydreams of his release—knowing that his partner is on the outside keeping his half-share from the robbery safe for him. “The haul was the kind that sets you up for life” so when Beggiato is diagnosed with cancer, he uses his disease as a reason to seek a pardon. Ironically, from his prison cell, Beggiato at first sees his diagnosis of cancer as a ticket to freedom. Once he’s pardoned he intends to escape to Brazil with his half of the money and whoop it up for whatever time he has left.

But Beggiato has forgotten to factor Silvano Contin into his plans. Contin has suffered a great deal since the murders of his wife and only child. Unable to continue with his career, he’s sunk into a life of obscurity with minimal human contact. The murder of Carla and Enrico has created some disturbing parallels between the killer and Contin. One man rots in prison, while Contin rots on the outside--haunted by the crime that effectively stole his life too. His hate for Beggiato and his unnamed partner hasn’t receded in fifteen years—it’s just simmering, slowly--waiting for an opportunity to explode in an ecstasy of revenge, and ironically it’s the ineffectual, disinterested, and monolithic justice system that hands an opportunity to Contin.

Brilliantly constructed, with stark, powerful and shocking amorality, author Carlotto explores the dark game that begins with news of Beggiato’s possible release. The tale unfolds through the contrasting voices of Beggiato and Contin—one man who wants to put the past behind him and grab whatever future he has left, and the other man whose life is immaterial and who acknowledges “Pity was a feeling that belonged to another life, before death had put mine under wraps.”

Don’t look for traditional characters here—Carlotto’s complex characters are boldly and unapologetically real, terrifying and unforgettable. From the worn out prostitute Giorgia Valente to the boozy, upper-class do-gooder Ivana Tessitore, Carlotto’s characters inhabit a bitter, jaded and gritty world. While the author’s vision of human nature is completely merciless, redemption still manages to arrive in the most unexpected, twisted and disturbing fashion. If you enjoy this book, I also recommend The Goodbye Kiss by the same author.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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"The Goodbye Kiss "

(Reviewed by Guy Savage JAN 6, 2007)

When Massimo Carlotto's hard-boiled noir novel, The Goodbye Kiss begins, Giorgio Pellegrini is a fugitive living in South America. He fled Italy in the 70s after his involvement with the Red Brigades--now he's in his 30s and he's engaged in guerrilla warfare. One night, he's ordered to execute his friend, a fellow expatriate, and at that point Pellegrini decides it's time to return to Italy. Now just in case you imagine that Pellegrini feels "bad" about killing his friend, think again. Pellegrini doesn't feel bad about anything. In fact he admits that he enjoys killing.

Returning to Italy as a fugitive, he strikes a deal with former comrades, but the deal puts him under the thumb of the corrupt--but elegant--detective Ferruccio Anedda. Surviving in prison--mainly through hustling the services of a transvestite inmate, Pellegrini is finally released. But he never intended to be just another working stiff. Drawn to elegant, expensive clothes, and fine restaurants, Pellegrini wants to live the good life that only an aura of respectability can bring. But for that he needs money....

Throughout his criminal career, Pellegrini possesses an innate talent for selecting desperate women who will enable his plans--someone slightly older than him, lonely and shopworn, and he admits, "I was drawn to forty-year-olds. The thought of worming my way into their lives and toying with their weak spots made my head spin." Too detached to be truly sadistic, Pellegrini leaves a trail of female victims behind on his climb to success and respectability. With the protagonist Giorgio Pellegrini, author Carlotta creates one of noir fiction's darkest characters. Devoid of any scruples, compassion or guilt, and guided only by desire and self-preservation, Pellegrini negotiates his world with a few principles--women are tools to get what you want, "no witness, no risk," and when it comes to killing "pick the easiest, quickest and cleanest method."

With the help of a corrupt lawyer, Pellegrini strategically plots his way towards "rehabilitation." According to Italian law, Pellegrini will be considered fully rehabilitated if he lives the respectable life of a model citizen for a period of five years. But this new life means that Pellegrini is now slightly higher on the food chain, and he has criminal opportunities that were not open to him before. Pellegrini rather likes his new life, and when his past comes back to haunt him, he's prepared to do whatever is necessary to preserve it. It's Pellegrini's savvy ability to morph that makes this book such a phenomenal, riveting read. His strategic thinking--unfettered by morality and emotion--kept this reader eagerly turning pages until this astonishingly dark novel's nihilistic conclusion.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

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About the Author:

Massimo CarlottoMassimo Carlotto was born in 1956 in North Eastern Italy. At the age of thirteen he got interested in far-left politics, becoming an activist with Lotta Continua and getting involved in investigative and counter-information work. In 1976, after discovering the body of an acquaintance who had been brutally murdered, he was falsely accused of the murder, arrested and put on trial. Acquitted and then convicted (there is no double-jeopardy law in Italy), Massimo, on the advice of his lawyers, fled abroad to avoid imprisonment.

From 1982 to 1985, Massimo Carlotto lived under a series of borrowed identities in Paris and then moved to South America. During these years of exile he was supported and sheltered by the international community of political refugees and assisted financially by his family.

He worked in a number of capacities (pizzaiolo, translator, academic researcher) whenever he was able. In Mexico, he was betrayed by a lawyer, underwent torture following a case of mistaken identity, and then returned to Italy and to prison.

In 1986, Massimo Carlotto became the focus of an international defence campaign that won wide backing: the South American novelist Jorge Amado and the eminent Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio were among his supporters. In 1993 he was finally released from prison with a pardon from the President of Italy. He had been tried a total of eleven times and had amassed 96 kilos of court proceedings.

After his release, Massimo turned to writing. His first and most autobiographical novel, Il fuggiasco (Fugitive) relates the almost eighteen years between his arrest and his presidential pardon. A film version of Il fuggiasco, directed by Andrea Manni and starring Daniele Liotti, was released in 2003. It has won many awards.

He lives just outside Cagliari (Sardinia) with his wife and child.

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