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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Deliverance of Evil

Roberto Costantini

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To purchase The Deliverance of Evil

Title: The Deliverance of Evil
Author: Roberto Costantini
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 552 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Deliverance of Evil - US
The Deliverance of Evil - UK
The Deliverance of Evil - Canada
The Deliverance of Evil - India
Tu es le mal - France
Du bist das Böse - Deutschland
Tu sei il male - Italia
Tú eres el mal - España
  • Italian title: Tu sei il male
  • Translated by N.S.Thompson

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Our Assessment:

B : decent but sometimes frustrating -- and very drawn-out -- thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 13/7/2013 Graeme Blundell
The Guardian . 25/4/2013 Laura Wilson
Publishers Weekly . 2/12/2013 .
Sydney Morning Herald . 26/10/2013 Anna Creer
The Times . 13/4/2013 Marcel Berlins
TLS . 21/6/2013 Sean O'Brien

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) slow burner, complex and dense. At times it's tiring to read, let alone hold up in the light, but once hooked you grind through the night -- a joyride into the heart of darkness to the novel's redemptive conclusion." - Graeme Blundell, The Australian

  • "At 631 pages, The Deliverance of Evil by Italian Roberto Costantini would have benefited from some trimming, but this sprawling tale of personal and political corruption, expediency and revenge engages, despite the sometimes ponderous pace." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Costantini spins a politically charged, Machiavellian tale of fiendish complexity that is longer and knottier than necessary. But the book’s underlying psychology -- which, in an effort to explain the genesis of the kind of monstrous evil at the story’s heart, veers disturbingly close to blaming the victim -- will likely be more problematic for some readers." - Publishers Weekly

  • "This is a long, complex novel, which demands patience and concentration. Nonetheless, Costantini tells an engrossing story of corruption and revenge, until near the end, when he kills off all the suspects, leaving little doubt as to the identity of the murderer." - Anna Creer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Unfortunately, it is also hysterically overwritten and hamstrung by a complete inability to deal with exposition within the dramatic texture of the story. The reader goes back to Leonardo Sciascia with renewed admiration for his patient sobriety." - Sean O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Deliverance of Evil is, essentially, a police procedural that focuses on the investigations into a 1982 murder and then into some crimes committed in 2005-6. Costantini uses many of the familiar thriller-tricks and formulas in how he has set up and written his novel -- beginning with the most tired and over-used one of all, as the novel opens with a very brief chapter (printed in italics, of course ...) set near the end of the story (chronologically speaking), in which the anonymous killer ('the Invisible Man') laments: "If things had gone differently that first time, perhaps I wouldn't have killed all the others", etc. Yes, it signals to readers that something set the guy off, and that we have a serial killer on our hands, and leads the way to help connect the events of 1982 with the later crimes; but this semi-mysterious (and anonymous) glimpse-from-the-future is just too familiar a trick from the thriller writer's handbook to justify its use. [Seriously, thriller-writers: stop doing this. Just stop.]
       The Deliverance of Evil turns out to be meticulously constructed. Entirely over-complicated, too -- but not lazily or hastily conceived. Costantini thought this through, right down to the carefully-worded opening chapter-from-the-future -- which, of course, only makes sense once readers reach the end. As it turns out, there's a subtle misdirect in that brief opening chapter, the murderer's confession of what he's done leading reader's to (very likely) jump to a conclusion that turns out not to be quite correct.
       And that's the kind of novel this is, for better and worse: as it turns out, The Deliverance of Evil is a police procedural whose premise is built on the sloppiness of an investigation, and of the police work in general. The 1982 murder investigation is quickly brought to a sort of conclusion, and then falls quickly and catastrophically apart. The twist Costantini uses at the end -- the resolution, finally, of the 1982 case leading also to the resolution of the contemporary crimes -- is, in some ways, inspired; it's also frustrating, because Costantini leads readers a long, long way without showing all his cards, or presenting all the facts: this may be a whodunnit, working its way to revealing who the 'Invisible Man' is, but readers never get the information they would need to guess his identity until the cases are all nice and neatly wrapped up. And only so much of that can be blamed on the sloppy police-work.
       Michele Balistreri, the policeman involved in both the 1982 investigations and the contemporary ones, likes to play poker, and early on he gets a new poker buddy, Angelo Dioguardi, who becomes a close friend. Angelo is in a different league from Balistreri and his friends and colleagues, a poker natural who has complete command of the game, who understands the bluff and how to play it. Basically, Angelo is unbeatable, especially by these amateurs (eventually he goes pro, and does very nicely there as well), but Balistreri and the others still play with him (and Angelo gives his winnings to charity, rather than personally profiting from them). It's odd, because Angelo could, if he wanted to, clean them out at will; the fact that he doesn't just means that he's toying with them, deciding how generous to be on any given day. The Deliverance of Evil is like that, too, the reader at Costantini's mercy as he bluffs his way through the investigations, the winning hand always in hand while readers are led this way and that, without a clue. Or rather with a lot of clues -- but many that turn out to be bluffs and misdirects. Not everyone likes their crime-fiction played that way, and The Deliverance of Evil -- which gets fairly convoluted, too -- can certainly try the patience and good will even of readers willing to play along.
       If Costantini tries way too hard to present clever crimes, the book does have a few redeeming qualities. The writing is solid, for the most part, and the action presented fairly well -- there's some decent tension and excitement for much of the novel, before things get too one-sided (the Invisible Man is a puppet master with just way too much control and way too far a reach to be believable). The original set-up and tensions are also promising: there's Balistreri, a young (thirty-two) cop in 1982 stationed in Rome's most boring police station -- Vigna Clara is: "about as exciting as a nursing home" -- a cozy position he got thanks to his brother's connection. Balistreri had been a bit wayward, flirting with fascism in his rebellious years but then turning away from it when things took a more violent turn (though not until after he'd spent three years as an informant for the secret intelligence service).
       In 1982 Italy played in the World Cup final, and that was the evening Elisa Sordi was murdered -- a virginal (except, of course, not quite ...) stunner that Balistreri had glimpsed and (still a womanizer in those days) would have loved to conquer. Eighteen, she worked part-time for Angelo, whose office was in a residential complex where Cardinal Alessandri -- his employer -- lived, as did senator Count Tommaso dei Banchi di Aglieno, president of the Italian neo-monarchist party. These representatives of church and state both wield enormous power, and obviously have a variety of interests; in the count's case they include his disfigured son, who has a habit of spying on everyone who comes in and out from his window.
       With everyone watching the football final that night, the timeline and alibis seem easy to check, the process of elimination quickly leading to an answer. Until, just as quickly, they don't, leaving the case and several careers in tatters. (What actually happened to Elisa that night is ultimately revealed -- and, unfortunately, is entirely preposterous (albeit still 'plausible', in the sense that the pieces fit together)-- but then by that time Costantini's entire house of cards is, so it hardly matters much any more.)
       Jumping to late 2005, new crimes bring back memories of the old. In particular, letters of the alphabet carved into the victims remind of Elisa (she had one carved on her body too). This, too gets out of hand -- what is the killer trying to spell out ? Is there a message here ? (It's probably not giving too much away to say that the original Italian title left less of a mystery around this (and it's odd that the US/UK publishers went a different way with the title).)
       Matters are complicated by a Roma camp in the middle of Rome and anti-immigrant -- mainly Romanian (since: Roma, Romanians, those wanting to cause a stir figure most Italians don't know the difference anyway) -- fires are being fanned by some groups. When some Romanians are implicated in some of the horrific crimes it helps incite the masses against these communities....
       There are a lot of powerful, behind-the-scenes- machinations. Some very powerful people have some strong interests -- and are capable of getting things done (including sweeping aside -- permanently -- those in their way). There are a lot of conspiracies, and people with secrets -- and Balistreri has to hack his way through the whole mess. In the end, however, the solution is largely served up on a plate to him, with a cat-and-mouse game with some last clues finally leading him to the mysterious 'Invisible Man' (though even getting him doesn't work out the way Balistreri presumably would have liked).
       The Deliverance of Evil is ultimately far too complicated and convoluted for its own good. There are some clever ideas here -- and the twist of who Elisa's murderer is is a nice one -- but Costantini just tries to cover too much ground here. Italian corruption -- and the corrupt powers that are the church, state, and various political parties -- is nicely presented, but this, too, is only part of the story.
       Balistreri is a reasonably interesting protagonist -- and the change from the hard-living womanizer of 1982 to the man on anti-depressants in 2005 is quite well done (though he works his way off them when he gets immersed in the case) -- and the personal scenes with him, among friends, colleagues, and even suspects, are where Costantini is on firmest ground. There's a bit too much of Balistreri as young rebel (and, worse, the trauma of something that happened to him, raised repeatedly: "that last night of August in 1970") hanging over him (without there ever being much detail about any of this), and there's his relationship, professional and personal, with a journalist he'd like to get involved with that just doesn't work right, but overall he's a solid leading man. Costantini also offers some color for some of Balistreri's colleagues, and these parts are less successful -- but given the overkill of crime that the 'Invisible Man' seems to be able to set in motion at will, a bit of this kind of distraction is also welcome.
       The Deliverance of Evil moves well enough, most of the time, to hold the reader's interest, and there's certainly enough going on. Everything is over-complicated and often too opaque; yes, the resolution makes for an interesting turn, but it's not an entirely satisfying one. When an author relies so much on bluffs and misdirects he has to invest more in making the reader care about the resolution; as is, it 'works', as an explanation, but it's also easy to shrug off -- almost anti-climactic.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 February 2014

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The Deliverance of Evil: Reviews: Roberto Costantini: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Roberto Costantini was born in 1952.

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© 2014 the complete review

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