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Thriller set in Paris and Milan

19th November 2014

Escape by Dominique Manotti – thriller set in Paris and Milan.

IMG_2872Escape chronicles events that happen around the Red Brigades in Italy in the late 1980s. Dominique Manotti was a left wing political activist in France in the 1960s, and is now an academic and author. She clearly knows her subject matter very well – and her descriptions of the Red Brigades and their interaction with the Italian establishment read with great authenticity.

The story starts when Carlo and Filippo break out of a prison in Italy. Carlo is a senior figure in the Red Brigades and Filippo is a small time Roman crook. The escape was meant to be just for Carlo, but Filippo was in the ‘right place at the right time’ – and tagged along. He was dumped shortly after the escape by Carlo and made his way to Milan and then, after he read that Carlo had been killed in a failed bank heist, moved on to Paris to the safety of an address that Carlo had given him should he ever be in danger. The address is inhabited by Lisa, Carlo’s girlfriend, an Italian and long term exile in Paris.

Lisa arranges for Filippo to rent a room from Christina, a friend of hers. Filippo settles in well and secures a job as a night watchman. He begins to fantasise and write about his own role in the prison escape – building himself up to be Carlo’s equal in both the planning and execution. Christina introduces him to a publisher who likes his book and launches it as a novel ‘based on’ the escape – with all else being fictitious. Not many, either in Paris or back in Milan, believe the story to be a fictitious one and – in all honesty – Filippo does little to disillusion them. He settles very easily into the role of celebrity (and at times even we doubt what his real role in the escape actually was…).

While all this is going on, Lisa has been trying to investigate Carlo’s death – she is very suspicious that he may have been set up by the establishment to die in the failed raid. And then a surprise witness (who has a past) identifies Filippo as having been at the scene of the heist. Which is not, and cannot be, true. What is happening?

Dominique Manotti, as I said at the beginning, has a very good understanding of how the Red Brigades operated and how they were misrepresented by the Italian establishment with, it is alleged, the Italian secret service having carried out several of the atrocities attributed to the Brigades. It was a time of great intrigue when black was argued to be white – and nothing was quite as it seemed. This feeling is very well captured in the book.

Escape is a fascinating thriller based on ‘fact’. It leaves one truly enthralled by the narrative, but also intrigued by the background and just how much of it really could be true. I would suspect quite a lot.

Dominique Manotti won the International Dagger Award for Escape, and it is recognition that is well deserved. And finally, you might remember our ‘translation‘ blog of a couple of weeks ago, a word of praise for the two translators – Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz. They have done an excellent job.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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