What I particularly liked about this crime novel was how Constantini reimagined a world I know nothing about: the Italian expatriate community in Libya of the late 1960s leading up to the installation of Muammar Gaddafi as leader. Constantini came to crimewriting late after a career as an engineer, corporate consultant and business director and he brings to bear all his considerable experience to create a character who is adventurous, worldly, charismatic, cynical and utterly lost. This character is Michele Balistreri who at the start of this book is a twelve year old boy. His father is embarking on a risky business strategy while his mother is still smarting after the defeat of the fascists. They are ably served by a Libyan family, the al Bakris, who live in a shack in the olive grove. In the same compound as Balistreri is an American military family: William Hunt is married to the stunning Marlene. Their daughter, Laura, is keen on Michele, but he is sexually obsessed with her mother. Tragedies and catastrophes occur, which mark Balistreri for life. Nadia al Bakri is murdered, the young Balistreri violates Marlene and his own mother dies under mysterious circumstances. The second part of the book reveals that Balistreri, now 27, has become a rather distracted, reprobate of a Commissario in 1980s Rome. He is called to the scene of a murdered girl, which annoyingly interferes with his womanizing. The girl, though, has had her middle finger amputated, which was exactly what had happened to Nadia al Bakri all those years ago. Constantini’s writing hooks you in and he pulls off that very difficult trick: to create a hero who is unlikeable but completely compelling.
Robert Wilson has lived and worked around the world, including spells in shipbroking, tour-guiding and exporting bathrooms to Nigeria. Eventually he settled in Portugal and turned to writing novels. Since then, he’s written many acclaimed crime novels including the CWA Gold Dagger award-winning A Small Death in Lisbon and the Falcón series, recently adapted for television. His first novel featuring Charlie Boxer, Capital Punishment, was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award and his latest in the Charlie Boxer series, Stealing People, is out now. Find out more at Robert Wilson’s website or follow him on Twitter.