It has been a while since we have seen a new novel from Lorenzo Carcaterra. Those who have been waiting patiently will find their forbearance more than amply rewarded by the arrival of THE WOLF. The title implies elements of cunning, fortitude, persistence and, yes, violence, and delivers all of those elements in quantities more than sufficient to satisfy even the most demanding aficionado of crime fiction.
At its most basic, THE WOLF is a story of evil versus evil with a united front of organized crime pitted against terrorists. As with most things, however, what occurs is based on elements that are more complex. Vincent Marelli, nicknamed “The Wolf,” is both the de facto head of the crime syndicate that bears the family name and the Organized Crime Council, an international syndicate that includes the Mafia, Camorra, Yakuza and Triad, among others. It is Marelli who tells his portion of the story in the first person as the narrative proceeds. Marelli initiates what is nothing less than a war against terrorism. As he explains when he lays out his reasoning to the Crime Council, he has two motivations. The first is the recent death of his beloved wife and daughters during a plane hijacking. His other motivation, though, is strictly business.
"Carcaterra balances his character development with a fast-paced and suspenseful plot --- you will want to strap yourself in your seat during the last half of the book --- and those who crave action with their reading will not be disappointed in any way."
The terrorists --- religious and otherwise --- are causing turmoil, as are the Mexican drug and gun cartels. Both are the puppets of the Russian gangsters who are financing them and taking advantage of the chaos in order to make inroads into the territories of crime council members. If left unchecked, it will spell the end of everything for which Marelli has worked. Marelli makes no bones about telling the reader early on that his business is everywhere: he gets a piece of everything, anywhere that money changes hands --- from the highway tolls motorists pay to the all-but-invisible parsley on restaurant plates. His decision to go to war puts him on a collision course with a terrorist named Raza, who is in an uneasy and potentially mutually destructive partnership with Vladimir “The Impaler” Kostolov.
The most powerful member of the Russian Mafia, Kostolov is also a banker to international terrorists in general and Raza in particular. Raza is a tortured but delusional zealot whose terrorist acts are building toward a grand finale that he believes will link his name to that of some of the most treasured cultural icons of Western civilization. Kostolov is happy to finance him, given the chaos his actions cause, but neither man trusts the other, and for good reason: each of them plots the demise of the other when their purpose is served. As far as Marelli is concerned, he can thwart Kostolov and gain some measure of indirect revenge for the death of his wife and daughters by taking Raza off the board for good. However, as Marelli moves to do just that, he discovers that he has a traitor in his midst, one so unexpected that he can hardly believe it.
Setting his own feelings aside, Marelli is aided by Angela “The Strega” Jannetti, the beautiful and enigmatic heir to the Camorra organization. In a brutal and riveting climax, Marelli and Jannetti attempt to thwart Raza’s audacious plan, pitting themselves directly against him in a conflict from which no one emerges intact.
THE WOLF is one of Carcaterra’s best works to date. Marelli is an immoral protagonist who nonetheless manages to elicit some sympathy from the reader, unconscious and otherwise. There is little that is black and white here --- “bad” and “worse” might be more appropriate --- but the reader cannot complete the book without coming to the conclusion that the world needs people like Marelli, as unlikely an antihero as he may be. His arms-length relationship with Ms. Jannetti smoulders as well, a mutual attraction that was never meant to be but should be nonetheless. Carcaterra balances his character development with a fast-paced and suspenseful plot --- you will want to strap yourself in your seat during the last half of the book --- and those who crave action with their reading will not be disappointed in any way. And please note: While THE WOLF is a complete work in itself, a revelation at the conclusion hints at (promises?) more, much more to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 1, 2014