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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Whisperer, by Donato Carrisi (hardcover, $25.99) (due 1/5/12)

Foreign authors are only as good as their translators let them be, and conversely, translators are only as good as the material they have to translate. I've read translated books with an awkward rhythm to them and wondered who was to blame.

The best translated book I've read recently, The Boy in the Suitcase, had a co-author who was fluent in English. I think that must have had an impact on the translation, as she, it turns out, was the translator. If only that were possible for all books. An author's art is not just the story being told but the way it's told. Look at how many English translations of the Iliad and Dante's Inferno there are by translators/poets fighting to get both the intent, meter, and beauty just right. I'm currently also reading Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery and trying to linger over every paragraph -- and what a lot of paragraphs there are! His translator is fabulous, as is the original work, I'm sure.

It's hard to stand in comparison to Umberto Eco, and Carrisi does and doesn't succeed. Both books are full of details served up as side dishes. Eco's side dish is a rich, opinionated history lesson; Carrisi's is "CSI"-like detail. Eco wants to seduce you; Carrisi is simply thorough. In any event, the translation is good but there's still a definite otherness and a vague tediousness to the writing.

Although Carrisi is Italian, it is not clear exactly where his story is set. The characters have last names like Stern, Gavila, Rosa, Boris, Roche, Vasquez, Bermann, Rockford, and first names like Sarah, Debby, Anneke, Sabine, Mila, Goran, Alexander, an international hodgepodge. I could imagine Sweden just as easily as I could France. (However, I think I can rule out the whole continents of Africa, Asia, and Antarctica.)

In an interview conducted in Italian by Raffaello Ferrante for Mangialibri (http://www.mangialibri.com/node/4255) and translated awkwardly by Google, Carrisi says that evil can be anywhere. The multiracial and multicultural society of the "no land" he depicts in the book is actually the society he hopes Italy will become one day.

Dr. Goran Gavila, a civilian criminologist working with the police, and Mila Vasquez, a police officer specializing in crimes against children, are the main characters. They have been banded together with others to catch the person or persons who have kidnapped and possibly killed six young girls. Both Goran and Mila have tragedies in their own lives, and both are seeking some comfort or distance from their personal problems by solving crimes. Each is intuitive. But the similarity ends there. Goran has the respect of the other team members, while Mila is a twitchy, indecipherable outsider.

Surprises start popping up as this lengthy novel begins to wind up. As the team discovers the bodies of the missing girls, each taken and killed by a different man, the team suspects that there's a mastermind behind the killers, a "whisperer" who controls their movements. But is that an illusion fed by intuition and psychic mumbo-jumbo? Hard evidence proves evasive.

While the book does seem overly long, it is a good thriller with an unexpected and stunning ending, and Mila is a strangely captivating character. In the same aforementioned interview, Carrisi mentions that he learned from the great masters of the genre: Dan Brown and Jeffery Deaver! He certainly has matched or exceeded them in cleverness.

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