A long, complex crime novel that moves from savage murder to the political and social realities of contemporary Italy.
Debut novelist Costantini’s book appeared in his home country of Italy in 2011 under the title Tu sei il male ("You Are the Evil"), a somewhat more pointed statement than the “deliverance” of the English version. The evil is broadly distributed. Police captain Michele Balistreri is a young man who has no trouble betraying the neofascists whose cell he has infiltrated, even if he harbors a few neofascist sympathies himself. He’s more interested in drinking, smoking and cutting a bella figura on the streets of Rome, and when, just after Italy wins the World Cup in 1982, a young woman turns up brutally murdered, he seems to regard it as an inconvenience. He takes his job infinitely more seriously when, a quarter-century later, Italy again returns to the championship and the bodies start popping up once more. Here, the story, already absorbing (though too long by 100 pages), picks up speed, even though Balistreri doesn’t; he’s world-weary to the point of exhaustion, cynical and dependent on antidepressants to get him through the day, but he’s been suffering from guilt over his earlier callousness and is determined to get the investigation right this time. His inquiry takes him into some unlikely corners, from the Vatican to gypsy encampments, though he keeps circling back to suspicions he has been nursing for years. It helps to have a little knowledge of Italian politics to appreciate some of the subtleties of Costantini’s story, as well as a nodding familiarity with the geography of Rome (and the fact, for instance, that the Hotel Hassler is the city’s most elite).
None of those things are necessary in order to understand the essential nastiness of the bad guy and the moral ambiguities of the supposedly good ones. A promising debut.