towards extinction

Creti seemed to intercept Montoris's thought. "We are animals on the way to extinction," he said. And took a long swallow of beer.

This from p. 387 of Guiseppe Genna's very fine thriller, In the Name of Ishmael. Creti is the cover name of a high up member of an intelligence organisation known only as the Service; he is attempting to recruit Montoris, a member of Milan's Detective Squad, to the Service. In the aftermath of the murder, by Ishmael, of Montoris's wife Maura, who was pregnant with a baby that may or may not have been her husband's. He does not know, and will never know, that there was doubt about the paternity of the child: one of the massive ironies of a book full of them is that Montoris joins the Service in order to avenge his wife & out of devotion to her memory, in ignorance of the fact that she betrayed him.

The book runs two times concurrently. The 1962 thread, of which Detective Montoris is the protaganist, and the second thread from 2001, again with a cop, Guido Lopez, as the main actor. Both threads are woven around assassination. In 1962 the plane carrying oil magnate Enrico Mattei crashed near Milan, killing the man known in some circles as the King of Italy; the 2001 sequence turns around a plot to assassinate Henry Kissinger who is, it turns out, not unimplicated himself in the mysterious Ishamel network. The way these two threads are eventually tied together towards the end is masterly.

Ishmael is an American invention, a quasi-religious cult whose aims are as much political as they are spiritual. Cultic rites, involving child sacrifice, are bound up with broader, semi-clandestine, sado-masochistic practices. The ultimate aim of Ishmael is to own Europe - for America to own Europe.

It's one of those books that deals with a number of real world events which are more or less mysterious, and sets out to string them together by occult means, or rather, through the evocation of occult forces. Leaving you genuinely confused as to where (or if) the fiction begins. It is also beautifully written: its descriptions of modern ruins in and around Milan, now and then, are superb. And it includes passages like that quoted above, seamlessly embedded in the text, never insisted upon, never really revisited, just ... a part of the show, I guess.

In The Name of Ishmael is published by Atlantic Books (2005) in a translation by Ann Goldstein

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