Book Review: "Death's Dark Abyss" by Massimo Carlotto


“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
- Edgar Allen Poe


When the first humans stood under the night sky, staring with wide-eyed wonder at the luminous moon set against innumerable stars; they certainly felt a primal connection with the Universe - a connection that resonated with something dark within themselves and their world. Predators, from beyond and within, consumed the weak and the defenseless. It may well be that our first attempts to ‘socialize‘ were a passive defense mechanism against the dangers of the night, known and unknown. Over millenia, this ‘collective consciousness’ (as Carl Jung defined it) has distilled our association with the night as a darkness not of the world, but of the soul itself. Myths, legends, histories and literature have all served as the vehicles of propaganda against this darkness. Spectators who witnessed these works, from the earliest records of human civilization to the everyday audience on Broadway, have all displayed a deep rooted sense of identity-projection with the ‘anti-hero’ - the underdog character with morally questionable beliefs.

No other genre of contemporary popular literature has been as successful in delving into the dark mysteries of the soul as the crime noir. And of the various pockets of thriving noir fiction, the Meditteranean noir (Med-noir) is a class apart when it comes to representing the duality of soul juxtaposed with the duality of the deceptively elegant environs. The setting of such stories typically takes the reader through a sanguine backdrop of sunny beaches, sprawling estates, fine wine and food; while depicting the lives of protagonists who are broken, corrupt, violent, with a highly ambiguous sense of morality that we behold with equal measures of repulsion and fascination. 

Masssimo Carlotto has emerged as one of the finest noir-fiction writers from Italy, the mecca of Med-noir. “Death’s Dark Abyss” (originally published as L'Oscura inmensitĂ  della morte) is the fourth novel in his crime noir repertoire. The protagonists of this story are Rafaello Beggiato - a lifer convicted of brutal murders of an eight year old boy and his mother, and Silvano Contin, the father and husband of the victims of this horrific, impulsive crime. His accomplice remains at large. The title refers to the last words of the dying wife, Clara. These are the words that Silvano lives by - foregoing his once opulent and flashy lifestyle to escape from his past. The story begins with Rafaello requesting Silvano for a pardon. The convict has been diagnosed with cancer and has a few months to live. He requests that he would like to die as a free man. Grasping a chance to find out the identity of the elusive accomplice (who Rafaello repeatedly claims was the one who fired the gun), Silvano sets in motion a plan that results in gruesome consequences. We watch his uncontrollable fall into the dark abyss of death and violence as he seeks revenge for the murders of his wife and child. It is a testament to Carlotto’s skill as a plot-weaver, and Lawrence Venuti’s impeccable translation that the reader is riveted through the many twists and turns in the story. As we watch the horror unfold, we find ourselves question the true meaning of “crime” and “morality.” Carlotto deftly weaves a complementary ‘rise’ from darkness and despair, to redemption and balance while hauling us along into the depths of the abyss. The story ends with an unsettling, yet satisfying conclusion.

Very Highly recommended !!
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