I chose The Goodbye Kiss (original Italian title: Arrivederci amore, ciao) as the book to pop my Carlotto cherry. It was a brutal and savage read. Densely packed with incident and laconic in style the English translation is a bit jarring with its frequent smattering of swear words and American idioms. I was curious if the original Italian was as tough and earthy and if the translator felt it necessary to Americanize the prose because the Italian idioms lost something in translation.
The book is the story of an ex-con who fled Italy to join a terrorist group in Central America and is now planning to return to his homeland. A lengthy prologue acquaints us with his former life as a two bit crook in Italy, explains why he fled the country after a bank robbery went wrong, his joining the terrorist group and his subsequent expulsion from the group. He returns to Italy where he is exposed by the police for framing an innocent prisoner for his past bank robbery. The police reveal they know everything about his life as a terrorist in Central America, the plan for him to get off for his past crime, and they force him to turn police informer in exchange for keeping him out of prison where he most assuredly would've been killed by those inside.
The four violent chapters relate his adventures in dealing with the police as newly christened rat, and the variety of crooks, murderers and women he uses and abuses. I confess that two chapters of this slight book (it’s only 144 pages) were enough for me. The protagonist is a repulsive misanthrope who has resigned himself to take what he can wherever he can from whoever he can and to hell with the consequences. He trusts no one. Women in particular suffer the most at his hands. They are nothing but sexual objects to him. The sex scenes are loveless brutal rapes. No one matters to him.
Here is a passage the pretty much sums up the book:
Once upon a time I wasn't like this, but things I went through transformed my life. I changed. I felt like something inside me had snapped. Maybe some asshole psychoanalyst would've said prison had destroyed my sense of balance. The relation between the guards and convicts really wasn't so different from what I set up with Flora and the widow. [...] I could find some meaning in life and imagine a future only by constantly testing myself with extreme experiences. I liked being a bad egg. And I finally had a chance to become a winner.
This was obvious to me. I got that point long before I reached that paragraph. And I got it over and over. For me the book would go nowhere. To read multiple variations on the theme of the crook who cannot reform, who realizes that life outside of a prison is no different than the life inside, that all is corruption, that life is cheap and short so damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, was not going to approach anything near a fulfilling reading experience. So I chose to close the book and leave it unfinished.
As for me, I need to read something funny and light now. Where is that L.C. Tyler book I put aside...?
Other Italian reads in crime and mystery fiction (most likely far better recommended than what I had to offer) can be found at Kerrie Smith's Mysteries in Paradise blog.