21 thoughts on “Massimo Carlotto DEATH’S DARK ABYSS


    “And his was the kind of crime that authorized anybody who wore a uniform to break his face.”

    A court case, in 1989 Italy, of a man who had robbed a jewellery shop and later shot dead his hostages, a boy and the boy’s mother….asked to give the court the name of his accomplice (who had escaped with the loot) — to earn a lighter sentence than life…


    “I resoled and replaced the heels on a rack of shoes. And I duplicated a bunch of keys.”

    Habits continue, as do my reading and reviewing, the resoling of books, finding keys to their locks. This is a powerful chapter from the point of view of the father and husband of the victims, asked to feel mercy for the culprit in prison now suffering from cancer. Over the years eager to find the sidekick who had scarpered, having perhaps been the shooter himself. Silvano also thinking of and haunted by his wife’s dying words that echo the eponymous ones on the surface of this book’s front leading edge. An obsession with everything ‘going dark’ one day. This is a timely read for me having finished last night a powerful drama series on Netflix depicting the Jeremy Bamber case in the White House Farm murders, that once happened near where I live. The echoes and connections, although different in many ways, are remarkable and make this chapter even more meaningful to me. A meaningful coincidence.



    “The shitload of Valium is the only privilege of a life sentence.”

    The prisoner himself, his striking real-time stream-of-consciousness (expletive-filled) notebookery of a journal (cf notebookery here in the ‘narcissus variations’ by chance earlier this morning). But there is more to this desperate man who once shot on impulse Silvano’s wife and son. Now to be rescued by cancer?
    More to this man than meets the eye, I wonder. One of his words stands out like a sore thumb: “entraîneuses”.
    A plastic cup on the lip of a peephole, as I recall, too. And the moka’s on the burner. Toward what eventual gestalt? Toward what darkness?

    “Here the darkness reminds you the red stamp on your file reads, ‘sentence ends: never.’”


    “I held him in my arms and sang him a little song that told the story of Croco and Diles.”

    I should have predicted the next outcome, but I did not.
    Silvano is allowed to visit whom I perceive as his own perceived version of Hannibal Lecter in prison and to ask him, eye to eye, to divulge the name of his erstwhile accomplice in the robbery and murders before granting his personal pardon on the grounds of the prisoner’s so-called repentance and actual cancer.

    The suspense is unbearable but a suspense that I — as a reader at his critical and outspoken ‘lectern’, as it were — feel impelled to bear for at least a day…


    “Aren’t you interested in knowing where you have the cancer?” he asked me. “No,” I answered. What the fuck do I care where it is. It’s there; that’s all I need to know. And it eats away inside you like a rat stuffed up your asshole.”

    The prison as this monologue’s setting, a prophetic symbol of the lockdowns of today? This sure is powerful stuff. Essentially needs to be read by someone like me, and maybe you are all like me?
    The mOka ‘one-cup testicle.’ Somehow a meaninglessness that rings a meaningful truth. How does literature really work? I think I am nearing its secret.

    “I’ll make myself a coffee, just for something to do.”

    Part 1 (up to “The time to tell the superintendent hadn’t yet arrived.”)

    “And sooner or later it’d be my turn.”

    His eyes “still hadn’t gotten used to death’s dark abyss.”

    A substantive section of the book, where Silvano, aka Signor Heels, is pressured by journalists, also by an ex-juror from the original trial with a strange idle rich quality of attraction, and by the prisoner’s mother, all facing him with various quandaries of truth and revenge, including aspects of rough justice that at least resonate with my recent reading and review of TONY&SUSAN (here) as again weF3E62938-A494-4D49-906A-F9D66A2F198A have two other fictional works in a mutual synergy of confessed truth, in counterbalance within each single book and then between them… ?

    “Anxiety and unease made me stop in a bar. It’d been a long time since I did that. I ordered a caffè corretto with Vecchia Romagna. The barista was a young foreigner who served the coffee without deeming me worthy of a glance.”

    • (Part 2)

      “‘Un caffè,’ I ordered in a loud voice. Then I slowly turned around to look at him. He did the same thing, giving me a distracted glance I found reassuring. He hadn’t recognized me. He raised the cup to his mouth. And I took the opportunity to eyeball him more closely. […]
      He waved and left. I looked at the coffee, then the barista: ‘A Vecchia Romagna, please.’”

      Silvano has agonisingly and devastatingly so much in common with Tony in Tony&Susan… including his reactions to and communications with those who bereaved him, both his wife and child whose deaths caused that bereavement, and the men who once had conspired on impulse to create those very deaths. He even tries to halt his heeling, for the nonce. If not his healing? To tantalise those whom he pursues and dangles on a line. He even writes to the newspaper with some effect….turning Moka into Mocker? The mocking victim turned culprit?

      “When he rested his elbows on the counter, waiting for his coffee, I materialized at his side. ‘Un caffè, grazie.’ The sound of my voice made him turn,…”


    “Cancer, cancer, cancer.”

    A short (premature?) blurt-out of freedom by our prisoner; his prospective “cock”-out, too, cruelly ironic for me, at least.
    Cf Tony’s ‘cock’ with its own personality in T&S! (I wrote in my review: “whatever the state of his independent ‘cock’” and “his cock released from its prison”.)


    “My imagination had no limits.”

    Silvano’s rough revenge seems to have no limits and involves his own ‘cock’ as weapon, I see. Taking the cleaners to the cleaners, as it were. But he is not satisfied by such revenge? 2262BB62-837F-4EF5-AF99-AE754BFB2979 His own loss of those who died outweighs. The darkness of his own forthcoming death outweighs, even more.
    I now should lose sympathy with him, I guess, except, perhaps, I realise, through him, that Death itself is the hero, cleaning us all, all us humanity! He is just a conduit, I guess. As we all are.

    “Make me a coffee.”


    “The important thing is they grant me the suspension and then off to Brazil to die the way I fucking want to die, far from these shits.”

    A prisoner’s expletive-riddled monologue upon his own fate, in or even out of lockdown, even even when you’re a corpse you’re abused. All to be factored into the rough justice of this landmark book,3E0CBC3D-3226-4E98-B1BC-FF434B7F0735 also prophetic of our times today.

    “I’m making coffee jailhouse style. You whip up the first drops with sugar till it forms a thick cream. Then the rest of the coffee streams down real slow so it doesn’t go flat and looks just like an espresso from a bar. Then when you drink it you realize it’s fake. Like everything else inside here.”


    “She parked me in the living room and offered me an aperitif. A Negroni. She’d made a carafe of it.”

    Silvano has another meeting with Ivana, who I recall was the ex-juror…
    The import of this remains to be seen. Mixed or dubious motives or simply sinister ones to match his recent behaviour to the Siviero couple? I no longer trust Silvano. But he openly lays his cards seemingly on the table to us as his readers? I am treading water here somewhat.

    “By the end of the meal, two bottles of wine had been emptied, but I’d drunk very little. Ivana Stella started to slur her words and repeat herself. I offered to make coffee.”


    “But sometimes you’d find a head guard that’d go to the bar and get you a caffè corretto. In the old days.”

    Apples is good for cancer, Raffaello says in his latest prison monologue. If not for heart attack, I say. See my chance simultaneous review of ‘The Shadowy Third’ here and its references so far to thumping apples. When used as an adjective as there, ‘thumping’ would sound to me like a foul expletive in Raffaello’s mouth!

    “But I’ll cook the apple with a little sugar, real slow, till it gets almost like candy. Shit, the gas canister for the burner’s almost empty. Just enough left for a couple coffees. O.K., I’ll eat it raw.”


    “I dreamt of Clara. We were talking to Enrico’s teacher. He was saying the boy was the best in the class, but he was so sick.”

    Life is described here as both ‘weird’ and ‘really extraordinary’ but there is no place weird or extraordinary enough in S’s belief-system to allow for God. His jury on God is not even out and would never be.

    A sandwich at a service station, no mention of coffee, having almost freed his own ‘cock’ Tony-like with the woman ex-juror…a preliminary for its full official release later after due consideration by both of them, as insisted by him. Blocking its earlier more vengeful release elsewhere.
    In parallel with Raffaello’s due release from prison amidst S’s seeming cynical (?) forgiveness… with the prison chaplain later telling him that “God will reward you for what you have done.”

    “And God was definitely not pulling the strings. God doesn’t exist, I’m sure of it. Beyond life there’s nothing but death’s dark abyss.”

  13. Two fleeting monologues comparing, respectively, a new-born, if cancerous, freedom from lockdown and the re-opened lockdown garage where conversations can be had with the dead….each sentence a suspense in itself.


    “The beautiful thing about a suspended sentence is nobody checks up on you.”

    “After lunch I’ll use the excuse of a coffee…”


    “The door opened onto my past.”


    “Cancer ain’t nothing but an enormous cock that fucks you till it kills you.”

    A monologue ironically about – as well as using – “foul lingo”, erstwhile ‘prison talk’ from someone now outside prison trying to get accustomed to the new currency. Euros as well as words and so-called normal life itself. Under the shadow of death that casts itself upon us all however distantly. This book’s disarmingly expressed depth of thought in liaison with its intrinsic anger.


    “‘Un caffè?’ she asked in a bitchy tone.”

    “‘Did you see the darkness?’ I asked for the umpteenth time.”

    I shall leave you in the darkness of this next Silvanoquy as knowing even some of what he tells you will otherwise spoil it for when you enter its darkness for the first time. And you’re not even dead. Yet.

    “She asked me to lower the blinds. ‘Do you prefer the darkness?’”

  16. “I don’t understand a fucking thing anymore.”

    I have finished the book, in one fell swoop of irresistible reading the remaining relatively huge chunk of it. The temptation to eke it out had — at least, in part — lost its attraction ever since I blotted the plot from this real-time review to preserve your suspenseful enjoyment of the book without spoilers.

    Silvano seems to have a ‘death wish’ — my expression, not the book’s — in his actions now, an expression that seems to encapsulate something important. The attraction of darkness itself, especially in those who read dark books, where we get some satisfaction in things resolving themselves in a paradoxically well worked-out farrago towards the inevitable abyss we all face…

    “Prison is a place of expiation where rules are in force, and inmates have rights and duties. Nowhere is it written that a sentence provides for consolation. Only those who’ve suffered from the actions of criminals are entitled to that.”

    Death is the new prison, where there is no consolation, no expiation, no revenge. A place where the money, the hidden loot from one’s crimes in life, can mean nothing. Even going to the seaside for its liberating escape, leads to that death wish again. And the above mentioned farrago involves the dubious police procedurals of Valiani inspired by Andes in Tony& Susan, no doubt!

    “I didn’t have the vaguest idea what I should do. I felt like I was being sucked into the vortex of events, sinking even deeper into the darkness that engulfed my mind.”

    The farrago that is Silvano thinking about ordinary things like “pre-cooked meals” to quench his anguish at his still-living-but-ever-dead wife and child, and then we have Raffaelo with stomach cancer from such meals perhaps, a criminal punished by nature, yet having a sense of rough justice that might make things better, to allow the victim — who turned out to be more bloodthirsty in his killings than he had been — to win in the tontine of death by the paradoxical action of self-destruction even when nature was due to destroy him imminently, too.

    Gratuitous murders, gratuitous self-sacrifices, rough justice becoming good justice, these are complex haunting matters that will dog you long after you finish this fucking fine book. (I rarely swear in real life.)

    Another instinct involved in making me read the final chunk of this book in one fell sitting — an instinct in hindsight! — is that the theme-stream of coffee actually dried up in this final chunk, even before I had lost the chance of predicting this would indeed happen! Oh, there was one exception, one single mention of coffee that I did notice in this final chunk, viz:

    “The next morning she brought me coffee in bed and we made love again.”


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