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by Massimo Carlotto and Antony Sugaar, trans.
Europa Editions, May 2013
192 pages
9.99 GBP
ISBN: 1609451147

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Giorgio Pellegrini has clawed his way up from a criminal past to ownership of La Nena, a restaurant favoured by Veneto movers and shakers, in particular Sante Brianese, a lawyer and parliamentarian. As a sideline, Pellegrini supplies prostitutes where necessary to oil the wheels of Brianese's corrupt enterprises. Despite a difficult economy, things are going well, but when Brianese announces that a two million euro investment has disappeared, Pelegrini realises that he has been played for a fool, and must act to protect himself. He is quite ruthless, but clear thinking will also be essential as the 'Ndrangheta (the Calabrian mob) become involved, and any mistake could well be terminal.

Pellegrini is a difficult character to like. For security reasons he drafts in a new group of foreign prostitutes every six months, and disposes of the outgoing group in a very cynical manner. In his behaviour to his wife, and other women, he is equally exploitative and unpleasant. However, he is quite prepared to treat men equally badly if they are in a weak enough position to let him do so with impunity. Savage beatings and murder come to him very easily and he suffers no qualms. In fact he seems entirely amoral; given the difficulty in forming empathy with the protagonist, it is initially hard to regard his prospects with anything other than indifference.

As the story proceeds, however, and the formidable forces ranged against Pellegrini become clear, it is easier to take an interest in his survival. Carlotto portrays the society in which the story is set as being thoroughly soaked in corruption and flagrant self-interest: cupidity limited only by the competition of those more expert. Industrialists and politicians are hand-in-glove, overlapping with organised criminals who at the top level operate like corporations. In such a cesspool, Pellegrini can hardly afford a conscience, and needs to be ruthless to survive. The story is told in the first person, and Pelegrini is brutally honest about his motives. Also, rather strangely for such a dark tale, Pelegrini maintains a somewhat endearing natural lightness of heart even when relating the most despicable behaviour.

AT THE END OF THE DAY is certainly noir, and gives a very chilly view of the human condition. For all that, the book is not a heavy read and feels like it was dashed off fairly quickly. Brutal crimes follow in quick succession, without compunction or afterthought, and in consequence the tale has little depth. However, this may not prevent its popularity as entertainment.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, May 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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