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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cold Summer

Gianrico Carofiglio

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To purchase The Cold Summer

Title: The Cold Summer
Author: Gianrico Carofiglio
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 348 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Cold Summer - US
The Cold Summer - UK
The Cold Summer - Canada
The Cold Summer - India
Kalter Sommer - Deutschland
L'estate fredda - Italia
  • Italian title: L'estate fredda
  • Translated by Howard Curtis

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Our Assessment:

B : solid police procedural

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 2/7/2018 Hannes Hintermeier

  From the Reviews:
  • "So detailversessen Carofiglio bei der Prozessordnung ist, so viel Spielraum lässt er dem Leser bei seiner Aufgabe, sich die Figuren selbst auszumalen. Dass Kalter Sommer dennoch gut funktioniert, liegt wie immer bei diesem Autor an der Grundsätzlichkeit der verhandelten Fragen zwischen Schuld und Sühne, Verbrechen und Strafe." - Hannes Hintermeier, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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 cold summer of the title is the actual summer of 1992, and the notorious assassinations of the: "two most prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors in Sicily" that took place that year, in May and July, actually figure (in the background) of the novel. These crimes are peripheral to the action in The Cold Summer, but an awareness of them -- a 'Historical Note' at the opening of the novel reminding readers what happened puts them front and center -- hovers like a dark cloud over the story, for both the readers and the characters.
       Marshal Pietro Fenoglio of the Bari Carabinieri is the central figure in the novel. He is forty-one, studied literature before he decided on a career in the police, and is having problems in his marriage. His wife Serena felt the need for a break; two months earlier she had moved out, and a summer assignment for work would take her out of town for a while anyway -- a period apart to get some distance and reässess things: "enough time to figure things out and hopefully come to a final decision". With Serena off-scene -- there's practically no contact with her for the whole novel --, Fenoglio's private life is pretty lonely and empty -- and so he can and does devote himself to his work. A somewhat philosophical straight arrow -- certainly in comparison to most of his colleagues -- he's a good police officer and he is respected, if not really liked, by his colleagues.
       There's a new captain in the office, Valente, but he seems to quickly sense that Fenoglio can handle himself, and can be trusted, and so he doesn't interfere too much. From the first, Fenoglio is shown to act on his own initiative, and to take charge of his rather independent investigations.
       There's considerable turmoil in the Bari underworld scene when the novel opens. As Fenoglio explains to the new captain, the local Mafia organization, run by a Nicola Grimaldi, seems to either be under attack from outside -- which looks unlikely -- or there's some sort of conflict within the organization. Several men in the organization have been attacked or have disappeared -- including Grimaldi's most respected lieutenant, Vito Lopez. Lopes seems to be the key -- and the question is whether he's been done away with, or is the one undermining Grimaldi's gang, or is just staying out of sight until whatever is going on blows over.
       Then the police get a tip that Grimaldi's young son has been kidnapped, and a huge ransom demanded. Grimaldi of course has no interest in the police being involved, but they look into it anyway. The money was handed over, but the boy wasn't returned; soon, he's found dead.
       Everyone -- especially Grimaldi -- suspects Lopez of being behind it -- and Lopez, knowing he won't survive on his own, turns himself into the police. He agrees to tell them everything he knows about Grimaldi's criminal organization -- and he knows a lot -- but insists he wasn't involved in the kidnapping. Fenoglio is inclined to believe him.
       The Cold Summer is presented as a three-act novel -- the three parts even called 'acts'. It is very much a police procedural, closely following Fenoglio as he does his work. Carofiglio's own experience as a prosecutor also comes to bear, as the focus is often also on the legal procedures, right down to the use of specific kinds of search warrants; one chapter begins: "Article 247 of the Code of Penal Procedure is entitled 'Cases and rules of searches'" .... The second part of the novel is dominated by Lopez's confession-interrogation -- the statement he makes as part of his agreement with the police, answering their questions: this is basically a dialogue-transcript -- which Carofiglio does, however, repeatedly interrupt with the latest action and breaks in the ongoing case(s).
       Lopez's statement is a primer of how the Mafia is structured and operates -- specifically Lopez's experience in Grimaldi's fairly small-time (but still representative) operation -- and this is certainly meant to give a good (and fairly thorough ...) idea of how the Mafia operates in general. It's reasonably interesting -- presumably more so to those interested in the details of organized crime logistics and procedures; certainly less so to those who just want the story to move forward.
       Repeatedly, Fenoglio has to ask himself how he can and should act, as these cases test his rigid moral compass. Much of the time, it's pretty easy -- you don't accept free drinks or meals when you go out, for example (though most in the police do ...) -- but both in the situations he finds himself in, and in working together with a colleague with a bit more baggage -- and a greater willingness to do what needs be done, even if it's not strictly by the book -- he doesn't find it easy not to step outside some bounds.
       The one case, against Grimaldi and his operation, goes well -- a great success. But the mystery of Grimaldi's son's kidnapping remains -- gnawing at Fenoglio. If the case against Grimaldi is a carefully built up one, in which the pieces fell conveniently into place -- supplied largely by the very willing Lopez -- the kidnapping remains baffling. It's a nice contrast.
       As Fenoglio recognizes:

The problem is always the same: we look for meanings, even when there are none.
     Investigations, too, are an attempt to construct order, to find a meaning. The risk, though, is that the need to be rational makes us lose sight of the most common characteristics of many crimes: their lack of meaning, their dizzying, inscrutable banality.
       The resolution of the kidnapping case also comes with making an educated guess as to who could have been involved -- educated by previous police experience of the more dubious sort -- and then leaning on that person to flip them. Fenoglio gets another confession -- but that alone isn't enough to collar the one truly responsible for the crime. Good hard police work doesn't get them much closer, but a bit of procedure and a bit of intuition finally does -- though given the crime and the perpetrators Fenoglio hardly feels particularly triumphant. But, again, it's a job well done.
       The second installment in a series featuring Pietro Fenoglio -- the first, Una mutevole verità, does not appear to have been translated into English yet --, The Cold Summer does give the sense of building up the character over several books -- as, for example, his relationship with Serena is only touched upon to a limited extent here (he misses her frequently, but that's almost it), and one is left with the impression that there certainly is, or will be, considerably more to it. Carofiglio presents enough detail about Fenoglio to make for a protagonist readers get a good sense of, but the author is in no rush to pad the picture yet; the strong outlines are enough for a book like this, and it leaves room for the series, and portrait, to grow.
       The Cold Summer is a police-procedural that's certainly heavy on the procedure, which can, at times -- especially in the dialogue-transcript of Lopez explaining the Mafia-world --, feel a bit plodding. But the variety of moral issues that are raised -- in the Mafia, in the police, and in society at large -- are intriguing, and Carofiglio does weave these nicely into his story. That, the puzzle of the kidnapping (and then the complications in trying to resolve it), and an appealing protagonist are enough to make for a solid and quite enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 September 2018

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The Cold Summer: Reviews: Other books by Gianrico Carofiglio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Gianrico Carofiglio is a prosecutor in Italy. He was born in 1961.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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