Winner of the Scerbanenco Prize for the best Italian crime thriller, The Deliverance of Evil is a masterful psychological thriller about an edgy policeman’s personal evolution - or devolution - as seen through the lens of a devilish case that consumed him early in his career and continues to haunt him 24 years later.
©2014 Roberto Costantini (P)2014 Random House Audio
With excitement over Berlusconi's rise to power and Italy in a state of gleeful and frenzied anticipation over the national soccer team’s improbable run to the 1982 finals of the World Cup, Italians are filled with hopeful feelings extending beyond the stadium. Italy itself is poised for a golden era of prosperity and positive change.
The night before the big match, Elisa Sordi - an attractive 18-year-old employed by the Vatican - vanishes. The case falls to a young, hedonistic post-Fascist officer named Michele Balistreri, who is at a party watching the match and deciding which pretty girl there will be his next sexual conquest. Headstrong and ambivalent about spending his life as a policeman, Balistreri is annoyed to be interrupted during the festivities and takes the case lightly. But when Elisa’s tortured corpse surfaces in the Tiber, Balistreri doubts he will ever be able to forgive himself for his inattention. After the man he arrested for the murder is exonerated, and tantalizing links to the Vatican and top right-wing politicians ignored, the case is never solved. Despondent, Michele spirals into drinking and depression.
Twenty-four years later Italy is victorious once again in the World Cup, but the nation has changed. The balloon of optimism from the '80s has deflated, and the now-gloomy nation suffers under the arrogant and corrupt Berlusconi government. A weak economy and chaotic immigration policies that have inflamed racist sentiments provide a stark contrast to the last time Italy tasted sweet soccer victory. Disturbingly, more lax divorce laws have spawned a trend of "revenge" violence against women who try to assert their independence.
Michele Balistreri has changed along with his country. Although he got his career back on track after the disastrous Sordi case and rose to a high position in the national police - specializing in crimes involving immigrants - he is no longer the devil-may-care libertine he was then. Now he keeps to himself, plagued by self-created health problems and bitter memories.
Suddenly Sordi’s mother apparently commits suicide, and then a slew of female corpses begin to turn up all with a letter of the alphabet carved into their bodies. The apparent hate behind the murders causes Balistreri to realize that the case that has haunted him for 24 years may be heating up again, and with a newfound sense of purpose he charges into his work: the opportunity to redeem the darkest part of his past.
The tenacious investigative journalist Linda Nardi senses a connection, too. Nardi is highly resourceful, and also a feminist - perhaps an un-tattooed Lisbeth Salander with a steady day job. She is doubtful of the popularly accepted theory that a gang of immigrant youth is responsible for the latest crimes, and her suspicions tie into her frustration over the corruption poisoning Italian law enforcement - not to mention her frustrations over Italy’s pervasive violence against women and xenophobia against immigrants from the East.
Balistreri and Nardi join forces - a volatile pairing with Balistreri’s past as a womanizer and Nardi’s fierce independence. They soon find themselves up against policemen who think they are above Italian law, Vatican officials who consider themselves above any law, and the disturbing currents of racism and misogyny that has become pervasive in Italy over the last three decades.
Meanwhile the murders continue, and what initially seemed to be the work of a lone psychopath reveals itself to be part of something much bigger and more dangerous. Finally Balistreri realizes that the letters marking each victim are spelling out a chilling message...addressed directly to him.