The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 7, 2011

Italian Noir IV

One of the victims of the Years of Lead would write stories that drew upon his experience of the time. In 1976, Massimo Carlotto was a left-wing activist who found a severely injured person and reported it. As a member of a militant organisation, he was implicated, arraigned and condemned by a right-wing judiciary as a murderer. Seeing no salvation for himself in Italy, he fled to Paris and then to Central America, remaining on the run for five years. He faced torture in Mexico and was returned to Italy where he began an extraordinary legal battle prove himself innocent. It was a poignant, deeply disturbing story of corruption and miscarriage of justice.

Massimo Carlotto Eventually pardoned and released in 1993, Carlotto, the most prosecuted man in Italy for a single crime, decided to write a book of his experiences. The Fugitive became a best-selling novel. He then went on to write violent crime fiction set in contemporary Italy. Having been in one of the toughest prisons in Italy, he gained an insight into the criminal demi-monde. “It was very useful for my profession because I met a lot of seedy people with whom to this day I keep in touch,” he said. “They supply me with a lot of information, useful for my novels.” Carlotto’s run ins with the law shaped the cruel terseness of his writings.

Carlotto was influenced by the political shades of Leonardo Sciascia, but he went on to add a brutality all his own in stories such as The Goodbye Kiss. His books look at white slavery, prostitution, drugs; there’s nothing cosy or easy about them. He subverted the tradition of a detective by introducing an amoral, violent terrorist as a lead character. “Giorgio Pellegrini, the character in The Goodbye Kiss, was the first character in Italian crime fiction to be not only an anti-hero but a ruthless one at that,” Carlotto said. “He is extremely true to life.”

The killings in Carlotto’s stories are realistic and highly stylised. His male characters are macho, ruthless, aggressive. They are singular in their misogyny, much more than one would expect from a typical hard-boiled protagonist. Women in his novels are marginal, hapless victims, pawns in the men’s terrible games. There is much violence against them and yet they seldom fight back. “It allows us to describe and criticise reality,” Carlotto says. He wants to bring a more journalistic approach to his work than what he sees in Anglo-American crime writing. “No one does investigative journalism with respect to changes in criminal phenomena in Italy any more,” he declares. “No one writes about major crimes any more, especially organised crime. Anglo-American novelists have remained novelists, for us it has been necessary to become something more.”

[From BBC Four’s Italian Noir – The Story of Italian Crime Fiction]


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