“Il-misħun imdemmi baqa’ javvanza bla waqfien. Bla hedu. Sakemm kif laħaq ix-xfar u ntebaħ li ma kellux iżjed appoġġ iżżerżaq mal-ġenb tal-banju jfittex ta’ xejn minn fejn ħa jiżgiċċa. Il-liġi tal-gravita’ iżda fis tatu palata. It-tapit kafellatte Nouveau, kontra qalbu, kanġa surtu fil-ħamrani. Foga u sħana. U titpin. U demm kemm trid.”
Way back in April of 2010, I wrote my very first book review on this blog. It was for Mark Camilleri’s debut novel, Prima Facie, and now, more than three years (and a million Seconda Facie jokes) later, Victor Gallo’s latest literary outing makes an appearance on Nigredo’s Room.
Let’s start from the beginning. Volens is Latin for ‘willing’ and it is a legal term used in conjunction with parties who knowingly undertake a risk. ‘Knowingly’ = ‘Free Will’ whereas ‘Risk’ = ‘Fate’ and the interplay between the two is one of the main themes that propel the narrative forward. Without giving too much away, Martin Mizzi’s predicament (ie getting wasted) is a direct result of a) compulsions and b) bad decisions. He was an athlete and a charmer, everybody loved him and there was no obvious reason to find him dead in a car on top of a cliff. But if there is one thing that Alfred Hitchcock and Jessica Fletcher teach us, it’s that there is always a reason for murder.
The same impasse shackles Victor Gallo albeit on a more intimate level. He is an anti-hero par excellence, which is existentialist for fuck-up. During those rare moments when he actually tries to do something good for himself, in waltz the Moirai who mess everything up for him. Despite all the good intentions in the world, all the good he does for others, he just can’t get it right. Hence the chain-smoking, the JB and the predilection for Pulp.
And why we like him so much.
Volens is a genre piece through and through (a poliziesco), so if you’re not into this kind of thing (like yours truly), you may want to give it a wide berth.
Or else you can still give it a shot and see what happens (like yours truly did).
For reasons that I won’t go into here, I read Volens twice and I enjoyed it on both occasions. True to its predecessor, it is very readable and the characters, old and new, are likeable. (The Casaletto doppia finta had me swear for a couple of seconds there. If you read it you know what I mean.) Mr Camilleri’s penmanship is a big plus as it makes for a fluent read, never clunky and far from unsophisticated. The temporal jumping back and forth is rendered seamlessly.
Unfortunately Volens, just like Prima Facie, is at times too keen on cultural references. For instance, the brief discussion about the merits and demerits of Britpop feels forced (how it’s worded rather than its inclusion per se) and the excellent torture scene is marred by the allusion to Reservoir Dogs. Before my inner ear was unexpectedly assailed by the strumming notes of Stuck in the Middle with You, I was in there with the characters, 100% tense and involved. I didn’t need a cultural back-up just in case I didn’t get it because I was getting it, very much so. Franklin Haber didn’t need it either because by that time we knew everything we needed to know about him. More importantly, Mr Camilleri himself didn’t need Quentin Tarantino‘s input because the scene worked beautifully without any outside help.
So. Would I recommend Volens? Yes, of course. It is well-written, on the right side of ambitious and a damn gripping read. And with word of Victor Gallo’s next case already on the sketching board, it’s bound to get better and better.
Volens is published by Merlin Publishers.