Undoubtedly informed by the author's own fugitive years – on the run from Italian police, tortured in Mexico, jailed in Italy and ever pardoned – this is not just another chronicle of life on the 'wrong side of the tracks'. Carlotto succceeds magnificently in doing what very few reporters would even attempt – writing in the first person as a protagonist almost totally lacking in morals, as someone who will do absolutely anything to ensure his own survival – including killing friends, business partners and romantic attachments if they threaten that survival.

Not since Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley has been a character with such an unequivocal approach to the use of psychotic and cold-blooded logic in the pursuit of wealth and respectability, while at the same time appearing to live a more-or-less normal life – and even coming across as a somewhat likeable character in the process (apparently not an unusual trait in real-life psychotics). Giorgio Pellegrini – ex-con and former left-wing activist (as is the author) – is someone that not only contemplates and remorselessly implements violent anti-social means to attain its ends, which actually does not appear to consider any alternatives. And the notion of 'anti-social' behavior would probably be a foreign concept to him anyhow.

Rather than a traditional whodunit or police procedural, The Goodbye Kiss is more of a thought experiment – exploring how someone with minimal moral or ethical compunctions can manage to successfully operate simultaneously in both the everyday world and in the criminal underworld. Perhaps not surprisingly as it turns out, Pellegrini has a distinct advantage in dealing with everyday people in that he lacks any semblance of the restraint that usually prevails people from acting out their fantasies. His loner style also enables him to survive the cut-throat underworld by not having to respect any particular criminal code of honor or gang loyalty. Some would (correctly) refer to this as paranoia, but then again, perhaps it demonstrates an inherent rational approach to survival in an environment that is, by definition, dangerous and unpredictable.

Carlotto, intentionally or not, manages to tap into those repressed, dark recesses in readers' minds where murderous fantasies hide – and this is part of what gives the book its power: the ease with which most people can identify with and understand such an ostensibly reprehensible character.

To what degree the Pellegrini character is something of a 'confession' from the author is difficult to say, but given Carlotto's background, it is relatively easy to understand the novel as an exercise in catharsis – which could also explain the fact that he saw no need to write a second book in the series until over a decade later.

Anyhow, enough of the amateur psychoanalysis … suffice to say that, since some initial squeamishness, I found this powerful character study impossible to put down – that is, would he get away with it … or not?

Source by Harry Gaines

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