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Price: £9.99 

Bitter Lemon Press


The great Liverpool comedian Robb Wilton died in 1957.  He is mentioned here because he used to tell a joke about searching for a shilling under a lamp and the same joke is mentioned in The Cold Summer the new and fine thriller from Gianrico Carofiglio.  How and why this particular joke moved between the two countries is a mystery.  It must say something about human nature and what shapes our dependency.  This is okay because the plot of The Cold Summer features human beings who both lead and follow.   The plot mixes a Mafia memoir and a kidnapping of the child of a Mafia Don.  Some may think the memoir overextended and too much of a diversion from the main mystery but it has enough authenticity and highlights to be indulged.  Gianrico Carofiglio is a former anti-Mafia prosecutor.  The distinguished American crime author George V Higgins also worked in an anti-crime unit.  Both authors have witnessed dark human behaviour and both like to give their characters room to tell the story.

The confession by the gangster in The Cold Summer reinforces the themes that dominate the rest of the novel, how welcome and approval can subvert any notions of right and wrong.  The long interrogation is an important element in The Cold Summer because it demonstrates how much we can sacrifice for nothing more than attention and an interest in what we say.   Corruption, sex and friendship all have seductive power and an interrogation can be a substitute for all three temptations.

Also fascinating is how the memoir of one gangster launches a law enforcement project by the police.  Like a key being turned, the end of the interrogation facilitates a shift of gear from curiosity towards enquiry.  The patient listeners become men and women of action.  

In The Cold Summer human morality is like the joke by Robb Wilton, something rooted in pragmatism, confusion and self-deception.  Our moral logic is fuzzy and slippery.  It slides between too many concerns.  The similarity between criminal dynasties and organised religion is not stressed in the novel but it will occur to a good percentage of readers.  These gangsters are like priests.  They have self-belief, an obsession with ritual and, if anything, are even more pious about their crimes.   But, as Carofiglio makes clear, who we are as people is often the consequence of a stumble.  Unable to break free of adolescence the gangsters and some of the police are condemned to violence and paranoia.  Even decent Fenoglio, the heroic Carabinieri officer, has stumbled into his job. 

The intrigue between the rival gangs in The Cold Summer is well done, and the self-righteous duplicity of ambitious villains evokes what Dashiel Hammett achieved in his classic novel The Glass Key.   There are references to real events in the battle against the Italian Mafia.  Carofiglio keeps the actual at a distance from the fictional but these remembered incidents add conviction to an imagination that is rooted in experience.   In The Cold Summer all are scarred, heroes and villains.  Despite the weighty themes the book is readable and entertaining.  Not since Bruce Chatwin was travelling around Patagonia has an author had the audacity to use so many short chapters.

By Howard Jackson