POISONVILLE by Massimo Carlotto

Book Quote:

“What bound them together was much more important than sex.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (OCT 17, 2009)

I first came across Italian author Massimo Carlotto in 2006 when I read Death’s Dark Abyss and The Goodbye Kiss. Death’s Dark Abyss is a tale of long-simmering revenge as a man plots against the killer of his wife and child, and The Goodbye Kiss is the story of an amoral career criminal who’s living a straight life when his past comes back to haunt him. In Death’s Dark Abyss, the main character has nothing whatsoever to lose whereas in The Goodbye Kiss, the protagonist stands to lose newly earned social status and affluence. Both scenarios create dangerous characters, and these very different Ubermenschen take fate into their own hands and move beyond traditional morality in these dark, nihilistic novels. After reading these two books, both freshly translated for Europa Editions, I was committed to reading everything in print by Carlotto, and so I was delighted to read Poisonville, also published by Europa Editions. Poisonville is co authored with screenwriter Marco Videtta and translated by Antony Shugaar.

Set in the industrialized northeast region of Italy, Poisonville begins with the brutal murder of lawyer Giovanni Barovier, fiancée of Francesco Visentin, another lawyer and son of the area’s second richest family. Francesco hasn’t had time to absorb the shock of Giovanni’s death when he learns that she had a secret lover. With jealousy as a motive for murder, the police investigation begins to turn towards Francesco. He has an alibi–he was fighting with Giovanni’s ex-lover, Filippo Renier, the scion of the region’s richest family, the son of the autocratic Contessa Selvaggia. Filippo denies the fight and claims he wasn’t with Francesco at the time of Giovanni’s murder, and so Francesco’s alibi melts away. Then forensic evidence is damaged, Francesco becomes the number one suspect, and meanwhile “puddle shark” newscaster Adalberto Beggiolin has a field day with the headlines:

“He was hardly a sniper with a high-precision rifle. He was more comfortable working with a sawn-off shotgun. If you shoot into the crowd, you’re sure to hit something. He looked on newsgathering as an activity akin to carpet bombing. In his view, good reporting resulted in bleeding, screaming victims.”

Poisonville is narrated by Francesco–a man whose grief for his lost fiancée turns rapidly to anger and then determination to catch the killer. His hunt for the truth uncovers some of the unpleasant business deals of the town’s most powerful families–a town in which money and power have moved into new lucrative business partnerships with the eco-mafia.

As a protagonist, Francesco represents a change of pace for Carlotto. Francesco is no Ubermensch. In fact he is fairly clueless about some shady deals going down right under his nose, but the creation of Francesco as a far-from-effective man of action seems deliberate on the authors’ part. Filippo, Giovanni and Francesco represent the newest generation of the town’s oldest families. Giovanni, a promising young lawyer is dead, Filippo is a nut-job dilettante with a mother fixation, and Francesco can’t get out from underneath his father’s shadow. This generation seems to lack the strong stuff of their parents. In contrast, Filippo’s mother, Contessa Selvaggia is “a remarkable piece of work” feared and respected by the locals. She married well and now controls the family fortune with an iron fist. Francesco’s father, Antonio Visentin is a wily, highly respected lawyer whose influence spreads throughout the region. Only Giovanni seemed to possess the drive of the earlier generation–a generation tempered and trained by fascism & the rise of the mafia, but Giovanni’s promise is trashed by her violent death. In creating the feeble-minded twisted Filippo, and the largely impotent Francesco, Carlotto and Videtta underscore the notion that today’s Italy is facing a new enemy within–an enemy that modern-day Italy is ill-prepared to combat.

On a final note, the cover of Poisonville carried a small insignia–World Noir. Let’s hope there’s more to come….

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 1 readers
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions (September 29, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Massimo Carlotto
EXTRAS: Publisher page on Poisonville
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our reviews of other Massimo Carlotto books:

And more “Mediterranean noir:”


The Alligator Series:

Stand-alone Mystery:


October 17, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: italy, Mystery/Suspense, Noir

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