This new novel by Giorgio Faletti takes place, naturally, in Italy, Milan to be precise. The era is the late ‘70’s, made evident by asides dealing with rotary telephones and cigarettes being smoked on airplanes. The period is made clear as well, e.g.: “A politician of Aldo Moro’s stature, held captive by the Red Brigades; another one of equal prominence lying dead on a slab in the morgue, slain by persons unknown. Add to that the strain of ongoing terrorism trials and the chilly veil of fear that touches everyone and everything.”
The eponymous protagonist, nicknamed “Bravo,” is a 35-year-old man whose profession is accurately described: he is a procurer. And one with a quite startling physical handicap. He is a fascinating individual – not the sleazy person one might expect, any more than a high-class call girl, or ‘escort,’ is the same as the streetwalker. He procures discreet women of intelligence and beauty, whose clientele count among their number some of the wealthiest and most prominent men in the country. One night he encounters Carla, a woman unlike any he’s known before, and his life will never be the same. When he arranges a very special evening with one of his very special clients, things go horribly wrong. Lives are lost, and Bravo becomes hunted by those enforcing the law and those on the other side of it, and is the target of both.
Bravo has a philosophical nature, e.g., “happiness comes to him who settles for less,” and “Optimists believe that reading books helps them fight their ignorance, while realists are certain of only one thing, that books give them proof of their ignorance.” As to dining in Milan, he says: “As in all fashionable restaurants, the food is no good at all and the prices are astronomical. This is the magic of Milan by night, mysterious alchemies that transform lousy food into solid gold.” When hearing of Moro’s kidnapping, he is greatly saddened. “The photographs of his detention, his forlorn face, his death sentence, all make me think that, when you live with the suspicion that you’re surrounded by nothingness, there’s almost always something or someone ready and willing to convert that suspicion to certainty. I wonder if he thought the same thing while the vast world that he once had at his fingertips shrank to the few dozen square feet of a tiny cubicle.”
Bravo is given to tackling, and solving, cryptic puzzles, “even though apparently easy challenges often conceal tangled welters of complication . . . I have the feeling that this is a final, terminal enigma, a puzzle whose solution might be worse than the puzzle itself.” The writing is quite wonderful, and the novel compulsively readable. This is a book unlike anything I’ve read recently, and is recommended.