Any Human Face, by Charles Lambert

Article published on November 22, 2011.

In 1983 Alex is asked by his mentor and lover Bruno to hold on to a few bags for him for a few days. When Alex returns to Bruno’s place after taking the bags to his own apartment he finds Bruno murdered and mutilated. Scared, Alex decides he has to get rid of the bags, which turn out to contain photo’s and sells them to a young photographer. In a plot line that initially appears unrelated, a young girl, who is not named, is kidnapped at an unidentified time for reasons that are unclear to her and the reader.

In 2008, Andrew Caruso owner of a second-hand bookshop in Rome finds some bags which used to belong to a lover of his who died, apparently by suicide, years ago. The bags contain mug-shots, photos of crime-scenes and other photographs, clearly from police archives. In honour of his former lover Andrew decides to show the photographs in an exhibition, but shortly before the show is due to open official looking men enter Andrew’s place, confiscate everything they can find and take Andrew away to an unknown destination. Why are these photographs so sensitive after all these years, who is afraid of having them shown in public, and how will Andrew get himself out of this mess he unwittingly landed himself into?

This is a literary thriller if ever I read one. Yes, the story features murder, unexplained deaths and kidnapping, but they are not the main points of interest for the author. Charles Lambert is far more interested in the inner lives of his characters, their thoughts, feelings and lifestyles. Set in the gay scene in Rome, this book pictures a rather seedy community where love is often not the main reason for people being together and where most are looking after number one. However, it is also a place where the few real friends you have will do almost anything to help you and where acts of unselfishness stand out a mile.

Anyone reading the blurb on the back of the book would expect to be landed in the middle of the action almost immediately upon opening the book, which is not the case. The lead up to the raid on Andrew’s place takes about half the book. However, that lead up is well used by the author to establish the characters and to give the reader some clues as to what may or may not be going on with the photos. This leads to the reader having an advantage over the characters in the book, but only a slight one. And by the time the book ends, this is still the case. Not all questions are conclusively answered by the author. Some interpretations are left up to the reader, which pleased me because it gave the story a realistic feel which is often missing from the thrillers I read.

A fascinating book, if a bit off the beaten track, which had me thinking about the story for some time after I finished reading it.

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