Monday, April 13, 2009

BLACKOUT by Gianluca Morozzi

Published: Bitter Lemon, 2004 (English translation: 2008)
ISBN: 978 1 904738 32

First line: Ferro washes the knife under the tap, whistling 'Don't Be Cruel', and the blood drains away, a pale, washed-out red.

Bologna on a holiday weekend in August is deserted. It seems as if everyone has headed to the beach to escape the oppressive heat of the city. Three people who haven't been able to escape, arrive in the foyer of their apartment building at the same time and wait for the one working elevator. Claudia, student and part-time waitress, sixteen year old Tomas, and Ferro, nightclub owner, Elvis lookalike ... and serial killer.

As the elevator rises, all three are lost in their own thoughts, each with a pressing need to reach their apartment. Claudia is desperate to get out of the skimpy uniform she hates, have a cold drink and a long shower. Tomas is thinking about his girlfriend and their plans to run away to Amsterdam that night. Ferro is anxious to collect some things from his old bachelor apartment and get back to his latest victim.

Then the elevator stops between the 11th and 12th floors. The lights go out, the alarm system doesn't work, mobile signals are strangely unavailable, and no one responds to their shouts. The trapped passengers are like “three wasps in an upturned glass”. As time goes on and there is no rescue, tempers fray and tension mounts to an unbearable level.

Blackout opens with one of the most chilling first chapters I've ever read and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. As we see Ferro with the young man he is holding captive it becomes clear he is a sadistic killer who likes to torture his victims, physically and psychologically – and he's very very good at it.

Most of the book takes place in the broken down elevator. As the focus shifts amongst the three trapped people, we see the same events from each character's point of view. The tension comes from our knowledge of Ferro. To the others he is annoying, selfish, and full of himself, but only the reader knows what he is capable of and what he is thinking. Will he be able to control his urges? As the thin veneer of normality he presents to the world begins to crack, our fears for the others heightens.

Morozzi brilliantly creates an oppressive claustrophobic atmosphere, where the heat, the sweat, the lack of air, the despair, and the fear are palpable. There are a couple of twists along the way, but the completely unexpected ending is ultimately a disturbing indictment of today's society. Blackout is a tautly written and chilling psychological thriller and I found it impossible to put down.

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