Usually when I read fiction in translation it’s a slim literary volume put out by an independent press, so it’s quite a change to read a big commercial thriller from Italy.
When a child goes missing and his mother is found dead in a park in Rome, suspicion immediately falls on the boy’s father. However the city’s Chief of Major Crimes has his doubts. He brings Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli back from sick leave and asks her to work with Dante Torre.
Torre survived a horrific kidnap and several years’ imprisonment by a man he calls the Father. He is now a consultant in child abuse cases but is still haunted by his experience. Caselli is dealing with the trauma of a case that went terribly wrong.
Their shadow investigation leads them to think that the Father is behind this latest kidnapping but the authorities dismiss their arguments as fantasy. As events escalate they find themselves isolated and in danger from police and criminals alike.
This book has fantastic plot and pacing. The author sets up hooks and keeps you hanging and they (mostly) pay off. There are some genuinely shocking twists but they feel grounded in the characters and the story.
However it’s the characterisation that makes this book so special for me. I loved the interaction between Caselli and Torre. They are both brilliant but flawed which is a familiar motif but it is done in a convincing and compassionate way. Torre may occasionally stray into Sherlock Holmes territory with his body language-reading skills but he is a much more rounded and nuanced character, and Caselli is no Watson – she has her own strengths and is in no way secondary to him.
I was fascinated by the structure of the Italian police and judicial system and the political interplay between the factions. The characterisation and the great writing extend even to the minor characters. Early on there’s a vignette in a restaurant. The significance of it only becomes clear later on so you have to pay attention as the author describes each of the diners, and all of them felt vivid and real.
One thing that struck me was the way the author writes about Rome. When you read books by British or American authors set in Italy you are normally treated to an orgy of pavement cafes, mouth-watering food and stunning architecture. By contrast, there is very little description of the settings of the key events, in fact it could almost be any Western city. The interesting details to me were things that don’t make it into those books, such as the the make-up of the immigrant populations – including South American and North African. (The latter are described as ‘Maghrebis’ – one of a handful of words in the translation that jarred.)
I do have a couple of reservations. I found the last third of the novel less interesting as it morphed from psychological thriller to action adventure, with the protagonists facing physical jeopardy from various adversaries. I felt the identity of the Father was quite heavily telegraphed. I was also a little disappointed that the old trope of the protagonist wilfully walking into danger, without backup or even a mobile phone, was used at the climax.
Despite these niggles, I loved it and there is a great twist right at the end which suggests there is much more to learn about these characters. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
A note on the audiobook narration
Cassandra Campbell’s voice is gorgeous, so much so that for a while I wasn’t sure if I was loving the novel or just her performance of it. It’s long, at over eighteen hours, and I was comfortable listening at normal speed (I normally go to 1.25 or even 1.5 – the cynic in me wonders if publishers deliberately slow down the playback to make their audiobooks look better value). Listening to a book of this length, over a period of time, has been quite immersive, and I feel a bit bereft now it’s over.
You can see details of the various editions of Kill the Father on Goodreads, but I would recommend not reading the book description there, it gives far too much away!