Review published on September 13, 2018.
The Cold Summer is an elegant and stylish literary thriller that reflects on Italy’s recent past. It’s tougher than Carofiglio’s other novels, there’s a deal more action and a chilling tone that reflects the dark nature of the story, it’s about the mafia and the kidnapping of a child – at times it’s a shocking read. Although The Cold Summer cannot be described as a psychological novel, Carofiglio manages to open a window on the characters inner world: victims, perpetrators and detectives alike. So this is much more than the who? It’s also the why? Carofiglio was a prosecutor/judge at the time of the events that inspired this novel and his intimate knowledge enriches this story. As most people here would recognise Apulia for it’s beauty and tourist appeal this reimagining of the darker side of the region will be an eye opener. The Cold Summer is a compassionate novel that lays bare the underbelly of Apulia and through this story of a small group of individuals dedicated to fighting the mafia we gain a real insight into the times.
The Cold Summer is set in 1992, an unusually cold spell has hit the south. In a short preface Carofiglio points out that that is not why this particular year still haunts his memory. He reminds us that this is the year that anti-mafia judges Falcone and Borsellino were murdered. Two of Italy’s top investigators were blown up, several police officers killed along side them. The public outrage was so great that the perpetrators were tracked down and arrested, it was the beginning of the Corleonesi family’s decline. One tragic feature of those murders is that the mafia were so embedded in the Italian state that both men must have shared political debates, or even laughed and dined with the same politicians who conspired in their murder. The two crimes bookend and overhang this novel but this is the bloody story of the Apulia mafia war.
Marshal Fenoglio of the Apulia Carabinieri is an honest cop. His colleagues are suspicious of him, he’s a taciturn character, an opera lover with a philosophical soul. Fenoglio witnesses the internecine conflict within the Società Nostra ranks but it’s not something that the force or the police and the judges have addressed yet. The Società Nostra is run by Nicola Grimaldi, known as Blondie, it’s a new local mafia formed in prison a decade earlier. The marshal is a good man, when he witnesses a robbery and arrests the culprit he tries to help him, although as stickler for the law he won’t let him go without facing a judge. Things are about to change, the new commander of The Criminal Investigation Unit, Captain Valente, comes to trust Fenoglio’s expertise. It all began with the murder of Gaetano D’Agostino known as Shorty, shot dead in the Liberta district. The dispute is internal, several others are murdered, injured or simply disappear. Most significantly Vito Lopez has disappeared, he is the man everyone thinks is behind the trouble. Fenoglio is seeking permission to bug mafia premises when events overtake them. Marshal Fornato of the Santa Spirito Division heard a rumour that Grimaldi’s child, Damiano, has been kidnapped. Grimaldi and wife won’t talk but the Carabinieri figure that a ransom was paid, 200M Lira (£1.8M), but the child was not returned. The man suspected of this heinous crime is, of course, Vito Lopez. Lopez is smart, he knows this will end in his death, so he hands himself in. Lopez is granted immunity in return for a full confession; the murders he has committed and names of his accomplices in a catalogue of crimes. He blames the war on Grimaldi’s paranoia. Crucially he says he had nothing to do with the boy’s kidnapping. Unravelling the mystery becomes an obsession for marshal Fenoglio, the prosecutor and the small team that won’t rest until they have answers.
The Cold Summer is a portrayal of the mafia and the internal strife that sparks the war but it is also a portrait of dedicated police and law officers determined to find the cold blooded kidnappers of an innocent child and to bring down the mafia. The novel uses passages of interrogation and interview as a way of progressing the story, this is a familiar aspect of Carofiglio’s novels that distinguishes him from many contemporary writers, it creates an intimate and psychologically revealing depth to the tale. It’s emotionally intelligent, full of insight into the working of the mafia and the police/law. The hunt for the kidnappers is as exciting as any really good police procedural, it’s gripping and chilling. As the solution appears to elude the team’s investigation and time is of the essence the excitement and trepidation rises. There is a twist in the tale of the kidnapping that is a real kicker. As with the life the outcome of the novel is bitter sweet.
The Società Nostra is a reimagining of the Sacra Corona Unita founded by Ragoli and his men in prison in 1981. This portrait eschews the glamour, it’s a dirty world with no honour or decency. However, the story also highlights the men and women who genuinely, and at some risk, fight this disease afflicting Italian society. This new series by Carofiglio is a cause for celebration, it will be interesting to see where Fenoglio goes from here.
If you like The Cold Summer you will want to read Carofiglio’s popular series featuring defence advocate Guido Guerrieri: Involuntary Witness, A Walk in the Dark, Reasonable Doubts, Temporary Perfections, and A Fine Line are all published in the UK.
Howard Curtis superb translation retains the emotional force and the insight of the original.
Paul Burke 5/4
The Cold Summer by Gianrico Carofiglio
Bitter Lemon Press 9781912242030 pbk Sep 2018
Gallows Court by Martin Edwards