In the Name of Ishmael by Giuseppe Genna trans Ann Goldstein

The curious case of Kissinger's trousers
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

What's the connection between a shadowy ring of paedophiles and the death of an Italian oil magnate in a plane crash? Between a fringe cult and Henry Kissinger's trousers? Between the discovery of a child's body in the early Sixties, and a murder in Milan in 2001? Giuseppe Genna's edgy and ingenious thriller leads the reader up a frantic series of blind alleys, through a satisfying mire of corruption, prostitution and sadomasochism, to a bold (if improbable) conclusion involving a global conspiracy.

Back in 1962, the Milan police make the gruesome discovery of the child's body under a monument to partisans. Big, stolid detective David Montorsi, plagued by marital difficulties, becomes obsessed with the case, and suspects the authorities of keeping something from him. In the present day, cynical and corrupt cop Guido Lopez is investigating the murder of a man shot in the mouth. The autopsy shows injuries consistent with anal penetration.

In 1962, Montorsi's clues are leading him towards the real-life, unexplained death of an oil magnate and politician, Enrico Mattei; 39 years later, Lopez's investigations bring him into contact with a cult called the Church of Science Religion, founded by one "J Ronald Lewis". The Science Religionists like to host sadomasochistic events. From there, it is but a short step to a shadowy outfit called the Children of Ishmael, who may be planning an assassination.

Genna handles his parallel narratives with skill. In the incorporation of real characters such as Mattei and Kissinger, his influences include Pynchon and Ellroy. The latter's presence is also felt in the tough, lyrical prose, superbly rendered by Ann Goldstein.

When the final revelation comes, it's a bit of a letdown, but the journey there is exhilarating, and the novel an encouraging sign that translated fiction is re-entering the literary mainstream. Ultimately, it's hokum, but hokum of a very high order. And I will never look at Henry Kissinger in quite the same light again.

Shaun Whiteside's translations include 'Q' by Luther Blissett (Arrow)