The Deliverance of Evil
Elmore Leonard, the noted writer who passed away in 2013, published a slim book listing his 10 rules for writing. One of them stressed word economy, and he scrupulously followed his own advice. He was contacted one time by the New York Times to review a book by Tom Clancy. “How many pages is it?” he asked. When told it was only 400 pages, he declined the opportunity. “I don’t read books with more than 300 pages,” he informed the Times.
Roberto Costantini’s THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL is an epic Italian police procedural that stretches to 552 pages. While Leonard might not approve, the novel is so exciting, intriguing and rife with appealing characters and captivating plots that readers will find themselves enthralled. Years ago when reading LONESOME DOVE, an epic novel of well over 600 pages, I recall coming to the end and wishing it would continue. Racing to the final pages of THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL, I experienced the same feeling of wishing that the book would not end, but that desire was tempered by the need for a conclusion to this mesmerizing thriller. The novel had to end, and the mystery had to be solved.
"Costantini has written far more than a police procedural. THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL is a thought-provoking and haunting novel that captures in words the unique mix of privilege and patronage that exists in Italian society."
Translated from the Italian by N.S. Thompson, this is the first of an intended trilogy featuring Italian police officer Michele Balistreri. When readers first meet Balistreri in 1982, he is not a sympathetic character. He is a young arrogant police officer more interested in women, drinking, smoking and his beloved Italian national soccer team on its way to a World Cup Championship than in his police work. In the book’s opening pages, Balistreri is called upon to investigate the murder of Elisa Sordi. The officer and his team of investigators appear to solve the case, but just as an arrest is made, evidence is discovered establishing that the prime suspect is not guilty.
Twenty-four years later, Balistreri has matured as a man and a police officer. He still loves his Italian soccer squad, once again battling for another World Cup victory, but he is no longer a woman-chaser and must studiously control his drinking. He is in charge of a small group of male and female officers conducting special investigations. Now he has to maneuver the difficult balance of police work and politics, a demanding task. Over his years of police work, Balistreri has also found his conscience. He is still haunted by the death of Elisa Sordi. In 2006, when Elisa’s mother commits suicide, the 1982 case is reopened.
THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL emphasizes many elements of actual police and law-enforcement work. In the novel, investigators often reach incorrect decisions because they are blinded by personal prejudice and sometimes racism. They also must deal with manipulation from those officers who have different interests and political agendas. Additionally, the power of the Vatican needs to be factored into the investigation along with local and national government officials. The battle between secular and religious authority often requires the political class to subvert their goals to those of the Church. In Italy, the power of the Church as a separate sovereign state makes that dilemma even more difficult. Balistreri struggles to maintain an open mind in his investigation, but often encounters heavy resistance from the forces allied with government and religion.
Costantini has written far more than a police procedural. THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL is a thought-provoking and haunting novel that captures in words the unique mix of privilege and patronage that exists in Italian society. Hopefully the next chapters in the career of Commissario Michele Balistreri will be equally enchanting.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on March 7, 2014