Roberto Costantini is a sharp writer. And perhaps he also cares about this definition. He hardly ever writes to please the reader, he almost always goes straight to the point. His novels, even if thick and dense, slide on an inclined and flowing plane, without frills, without expressive roundness or digressions. They are constructions that follow a precise project, the son of the previous life of the Roman writer, who was an engineer before revealing himself in 2011 with You are evil and Commissioner Balistreri, still today the most controversial figure of policeman in our homeland letters, perhaps together with Antonio Manzini’s Rocco Schiavone. There is a cyclical nature in his works, revealing the restless nature of the author. If the commissar’s debut was a very hard detective story, where there was the intention to speak without pretense about the crudest and darkest sides of our country, At the roots of evil, the second chapter of that trilogy, was a sort of noir trial against Italy, more explicit and direct than the previous one.
Also A woman in war, to be released on February 8 for Longanesi, a sequel to the first novel dedicated to the secret service agent Aba Abate, respects this implicit rule. It begins where the predecessor ended up, with the protagonist collecting the pieces of her private life and above all of a victory that, as always in Costantini, turns out to be very similar to defeat, full of bitterness and herald of personal apocalypses to come. Aba and his colleagues prevented an attack on the Capitol, a massacre that would have been the first of Islamic terrorism on our territory. But the price to pay was very high, as can be the loss of a friend who was also a mentor, a point of reference. Now we have to understand how this could have happened. Who is behind that conspiracy, and how far it wants to go. «Islam would always have been among those who saw the bombs falling on them. But they would have conquered and subdued Europe without firing a shot. Starting from Italy, the soft underbelly of soft Europe ». This sentence, uttered by an emir at the head of a conspiracy in which the two hitmen with explosive belts sent to Rome were only a red herring, reveals a state of mind that is present throughout the four hundred pages of the novel. Aba and our secret services give their all, they do their part and even something more, but they are pawns in a much bigger game than them. To support them, to watch their backs, there is no world power. There is little Italy, with its eternal defects, with the logic of one step forward and one step back, the setbacks, the setbacks, with the eternal propensity to always choose what is convenient on an individual level.
It is a malaise that marks the entire journey of the characters in the book. But Costantini’s disillusioned cynicism does not look only to international relations, to systems of power, to the grand scenario. It begins with that, with an analysis based on a politically very incorrect application from one side of the fence to the other. “They had tried for centuries, to militarily beat the West, and they didn’t understand that it would never happen,” the Arab prince at the head of the conspiracy said at one point. “It was not a question of supremacy, but simply of head and of those damned religious diversities: for Westerners and for Jews there was a merciful God, who forgave every wickedness, from petty fraud to bankruptcy to the war to invade a country under the guise of invented chemical weapons ».
But the disillusionment and the sense of defeat overflow instantly in the private lives of our secret agents. None of them, dull or brave, can be said to be serene, if not happy. The first to not be able to do so is Aba, who moves between the Roman palaces and Libya, in a scenario where violence always hovers, at the beginning in the introduction, hidden in the dialogues of which Costantini is a teacher, tense and tight as they are , each time on the edge of the precipice. And then it explodes, mercilessly, hitting characters who from the beginning seem to be meeting a destiny already written. Aba’s private life is marked by an unfaithful husband, by a painful separation, by the difficult choices that involve adult loves that end abruptly. When, in an awkward attempt at reconciliation, the now ex-husband tells her that “the happiness of the children counts, not ours”, the secret service agent, who is such without the knowledge of the family, considers the sentence of “that ‘good man’, yet it is also the worst, ‘the tombstone of our twenties’.
The bitter Costantini shapes matter in his own way, but he doesn’t have problems finding ideas everywhere. Aba’s American rival seems to come straight out of Homeland, his family situation is very reminiscent, in reversed roles, of the True lies by James Cameron, in the outdoor scenes to close your eyes you find yourself in Zero Dark Thirty by Kathryn Bigelow. What remains the same is the touch of the Roman writer, a sort of cosmic pessimism justified by the facts that spreads over the entire narrative, becomes its main figure, thus making personal the suggestions taken from the recent filmic imagery. In the end, it always comes home. Understood as Italy, its national sins and the acquiescence which oblige those who pay them on their own skin. The only certainty is that it will end badly, as a disconsolate Aba often thinks. In the great game of international terrorism, no grandmaster can win many games simultaneously against other masters. It is a rule of chess, and of life. It is inevitable that a defeat will arrive, destined to defeat the rest, to overwhelm everything. Only solidarity between wounded people will save us, Costantini seems to tell us, those bonds that are created out of nothing, based on pain, but victorious in every desert, political and human..
The presentations on the Facebook pages of the bookstores
The tour of Roberto Costantini and his new novel is about to start A woman in war (Longanesi). Tuesday 9 February at 6.30 pm the author will be live from the Facebook page of the I Granai di Roma bookshop. Annarita Briganti spoke. Wednesday 10 at 18, for the LibLive series, event on the Facebook page of Il Libraio with Petunia Ollister, while on Thursday 11, for Connessioni Noir, appointment at 19 on the Facebook page Ubik Librerie. Saturday 13th at 5.30 pm live from the Covo della Ladra bookshop in Milan (Facebook).
February 8, 2021 (change February 8, 2021 | 11:58)