A terrorist plot threatens a high-profile event in the latest installment of a Milan-based thriller series.
When a hapless customs official accepts several bribes to overlook particular shipments coming through the Italian port of La Spezia, his guilt and suspicion compel him to confess the transgression to his brother-in-law, Gianni D’Imporzano, an agent with the Milanese Questura. What the subsequent probe turns up is frightening: someone has been transporting into Italy chemicals used to make the deadly gas sarin. The Questura assembles a team to foil the suspected terrorist scheme. The story proceeds to plumb painstaking investigative minutiae as inspectors track phone records, stake out suspects, and navigate agency politics, all while trying to lead normal lives. A parallel narrative describes how the villain, at first a normal Muslim-Italian man with Pakistani heritage, came to be radicalized, a slow build of humiliation, resentment, and cultural intolerance that culminates in his plan to commit mass murder. The mundane element of the tale is notable: would-be jihadis struggle with their sexual drives and the jobs they hate while detectives gush about meeting celebrities and bicker like siblings. Nobody is ideologically pure; everyone is merely human. Unfortunately, Erickson’s (Weekend Guest, 2016, etc.) attention to quotidian concerns tends to trip up the pace of his slick procedural. Every character, no matter how peripheral, is given a bio at the moment of introduction, and with the exception of the villain, whose past traces effectively to his harrowing present, the broader back stories of the main players have no bearing on the tale’s primary action. The result is that histories intended to round out characters read as mere devices for making them sympathetic instead of contributing to a textured fictional reality in which their participation in the plot leads to growth that they wouldn’t otherwise have achieved. This disjointedness drains the story of its urgency, leaving the reader to root for the foiling of terrorism for its own sake, without much concern for the agents trying to get the job done.
A thoroughly researched and soberly told tale of one of today’s most pressing global issues, weakened by clumsy characterization.