A Milanese pimp with a heart of gold is drawn ever-deeper into the city’s seedy underworld.
The third bluntly titled thriller by Faletti (I Kill, 2002; I Am God, 2009) is narrated by Bravo, who lets the reader know a few important things up front. First, his penis was cut off years ago after falling afoul of the wrong people; he’s a tough but compassionate boss to the women who serve his high-priced clients; and he works hard to keep the more sordid aspects of Milan’s druggy, violent underbelly at arm’s length. The novel's plot turns on him bungling that last part badly: Not long after taking a new prostitute under his wing, he discovers that he’s been framed as part of a complicated scheme that’s left some of Italy’s prominent movers and shakers dead. Though the novel is set in 1978—the kidnapping of politician Aldo Moro plays a small role in the plot—its spirit and tone are closer to that of the ’30s and ’40s noirs of Cain, Hammett, Chandler and Goodis. Bravo is a black-humored, streetwise narrator with an appealingly flinty demeanor even when he’s in over his head, and he has an excellent femme fatale in Carla, an initially pliable woman who turns out to be much more manipulative than he expected. Faletti is particularly adept at showing how the scales slowly fall from Bravo’s eyes: First his moral certainty about his profession erodes, then his sense of personal security, then his faith in his country’s social structure. The nobody-can-be-trusted plot is familiar, and some closing revelations about Bravo’s past feel shoehorned in, but the book thrives on its fast pace—translator Antony Shugaar has taken care to keep the style pulpy yet elevated, in keeping with a hero who’s seen society at its worst but somehow finds time to enjoy the occasional word puzzle.
A savvy lowbrow-highbrow thriller.