“The worst part isn’t seeing the bodies.…The worst part is breaking the news to the victims’ relatives. Especially if the victims are children.”
In Carofiglio’s (A Fine Line, 2016, etc.) latest, it’s up to Pietro Fenoglio, a middle-aged carabiniere with a penchant for philosophy, to investigate the kidnapping and murder of the young son of Nicola Grimaldi, a powerful crime boss, and determine if it’s part of the violence tearing apart Grimaldi’s organization or just a tragic coincidence. A former anti-Mafia prosecutor, Carofiglio sets his tale in Italy’s Apulia region during the cold, rainy spring of 1992 as Grimaldi’s top lieutenants are turning up dead or missing. Their deaths aren’t a surprise to him; he knows all crime families, eventually, turn on each other. But the boy’s death is different; it should have ended with the ransom money and the boy’s return, not his body dumped in an abandoned well. “It’s like a brainteaser,” Fenoglio tells a colleague. “Whichever way you look at it, it doesn’t make sense.” Carofiglio gives an inside view of Grimaldi’s Società Nostra thanks to police interviews with a Grimaldi turncoat who wants protection from Grimaldi’s wrath. Occasionally these interviews go on too long, but what makes up for that is Carofiglio’s engaging main character. Fenoglio is a sensitive, polished figure who has managed to keep his idealism intact in a career meant to break it; he is as comfortable philosophizing as he is citing the public safety code. When he recalls a joke about a drunkard searching for his keys under a streetlight rather than in the dark street where he lost them, he realizes his search is failing for the same reason: “We look where it’s light, even though that’s exactly how not to solve the problem.”
Solving this case, Carofiglio shows us, requires a leap into the darkness.
In the summer of 1992, two real-life anti-Mafia prosecutors and their companions were assassinated in a pair of car bombings by the Sicilian Mafia, as Carofiglio (The Silence of the Wave) notes in a brief introduction to this fine police procedural. To the alarm of Marshal Pietro Fenoglio, a Carabinieri officer based in Bari, the Mafia wars have spread that same year from Sicily to Italy’s Puglia region. In particular, Fenoglio investigates the case of Damiano Grimaldi, a son of Nicola Grimaldi, the head of one of the warring factions, who was kidnapped on his way to school. Despite his parents paying a ransom, the boy’s body is discovered three days later down a well. Nicola vows revenge on his enemy Vito Lopez, who immediately surrenders to the police. Lopez is debriefed, confessing to a whole range of crimes, including murder, but swears that he didn’t take the child. In a number of long but fascinating interrogation scenes, Fenoglio gets closer to the truth. This standalone is sure to win Carofiglio, a former prosecutor who specialized in organized crime, a wider U.S. audience.
Who better to tell you how the Mafia works than the man who in real life was an Italian prosecutor and advisor to the government’s anti-Mafia Committee? His latest tale is set during the upsurge in Mafia violence in 1992 during which two of the most prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors in Sicily and those accompanying them were murdered by the mob. Here we learn of the gang wars going on at that time in Apulia. Forget the hype. Carofiglio’s Mafia is not a supranational highly organised criminal network of unholy families but a ragbag of violent street gangs, each defending its turf and squabbling – albeit murderously – with its neighbours.
What will happen when the son of one such gang leader is kidnapped and murdered? It’s down to Carabinieri officer Pietro Fenoglio (Carofiglio’s new series hero) to stop the mayhem. This at times meditative book teaches us much about gangland’s childish rituals and Italian police procedure but still racks up some tension before its realistic conclusion. It’s a book for adult readers, about gangsters who are little more than viscously bad boys.