Saturday, February 7, 2015
Politics, Religion, and Police Work: The Deliverance of Evil by Roberto Costantini, Translated from the Italian by N. S. Thompson
The Deliverance of Evil is part one of a trilogy by Roberto Costantini. The detailed and lengthy (564 pages) thriller is the story of a young police captain, Michele Balistreri, beginning in Rome in 1982. The very good translation from Italian by N. S. Thompson captures the daily life of the citizens of Rome including solid citizens, gypsies, prostitutes, criminals, politicians, police officers, wealthy royalty, lay guests and religious of the Vatican, and Catholic church officials. Balistreri has a troublesome, secretive, and violent political past but has been saved from prosecution by his brother, a man with strong membership in the influential Christian Democrats political party.
Balistreri misses his past life of danger and makes up for it in debauchery. He certainly does not take his police captain duties or his use of women seriously. He spends most of his time rousting people with his badge in hand, drinking from dawn until dusk, and seeking new women to conquer sexually. As a result of his lack of attention, Balistreri makes a serious mistake in an investigation of a murder during the World Cup soccer match between Italy and West Germany. The drunken misogynist gets into trouble but manages to keep his police job because of his brother’s political connections.
The novel jumps several decades in time, and the reader follows the subdued-by-age Balistreri as he drags through his life focused on recovering from damage he did to himself physically and emotionally as a young man. Due to his early failure as a stand-up man, he thinks of himself as a degenerate no better than the criminals he chased. In the 2000s he has straightened up enough to be chosen as the head of a police unit dealing with crimes by foreigners. This is a good position for Balistreri outside of the mainstream of city police work in Rome. Balistreri’s aggressive style of dealing with women and criminals has changed, and now he carefully watches his diet and religiously takes his antidepressant medication.
The past in the form of the 1982 unsolved murder haunts Balistreri in his mind and in reality during the 2006 World Cup, déjà vu all over again. He has to decide whether to live as a man or continue his holding pattern of careful work framed by personal regret and misery. He has become a toady to Rome’s dominant political and social players, careful to keep his police staff from making any controversial waves. Is it the right time for redemption and does he have the right stuff to achieve it?
The novel includes many interesting references to political history and current interactions between the Vatican and the social/political ruling class in Italy. The descriptions of the problems related to the growing legal and illegal immigrant population in Italy are interesting in light of our own US problems with immigration.
The Deliverance of Evil is a good tour de force narrative rich in the detailed descriptions of Italian life. This causes some reduction in the pace and tension of the story but the reader gets a good idea of the high energy life in Rome. I look forward to reading the next novel in the proposed trilogy, The Root of All Evil, due to be published in April.