Yes, yes: judging a book by its cover is famously futile. But I fell for it nonetheless. The 2014 Europa Edition of Massimo Carlotto’s ‘Master of Knots’ is a superficially thing of salacious sensation. The cover-art is overtly sexual: the dust-jacket itself is unusually high quality and pleasingly tactile, and the back-cover blurb is nothing less than the opening moments of an erotic strip-tease; bookstore titillation of the worst/best type – suggesting a mature, sensual exploration of explicit themes within.
The short prologue, too, was presumably written to attract a certain type of reader. It details the death of a beautiful woman during extreme BDSM and is the only part of the novel to dare to tread that dangerous ground. Here the author gets close to the core of the matter: the morality of sexual pleasure at the knife-edge of acceptability. But then he bails out, scampers back to the safety of a traditional pulp-fiction back-streets investigation – and not a particularly well developed one at that.
It’s a cop-out, plain and simple. And I have to wonder if this edition isn’t entirely intended to capitalise on the publicity flurry accompanying the ‘50 Shades…’ film.
The teasing intro aside, Master of Knots is an entirely average detective tale. A trio of over-the-hill Italian reformed criminals – one with mob connections, two rather more lightweight – undertake occasional investigations where victims can’t involve the police. The husband of a missing woman begs them to find out what happened to his wife after the pair of them fell foul of blackmailing bad guys, one of whom has a kink for the wilder side. Don’t wait with bated breath for the Master of Knots to make his appearance: he’s nothing more than a shadow, an underdeveloped plot device, a meaningless MacGuffin.
Maybe this investigation into sex slaves, chat rooms, dominance and restraint would have been shocking when this was written, 15 years or so ago – but I doubt it. (Weren’t the bunga-bunga parties going on around then?) At any rate, the author keeps all that distasteful stuff firmly at arm’s length – it’s not included to arouse any inclinations, more to give the traditional macho investigators something to be scornful about. No danger of any titillation going on here, oh no.
Even so, the story could have been quite entertaining as a traditional type of procedural investigation, were it not for the wild digression into geopolitical commentary which takes place about halfway through. The book stops being any sort of crime novel and dissolves into a diatribe about how badly protestors at a G8 summit were treated. It rambles on, drawing a clumsy parallel between the way convicted prisoners in jail are routinely treated and the increasingly brutal tactics of the police against innocent demonstrators. Look again at the cover illustration and the title of the book: misleading? Only just a lot.
The final insult: in the concluding chapter it seems that the author couldn’t really be bothered to wrap up the investigation to give the reader any sense of satisfaction. The plot just subsides into obscurity with the protagonist effectively shrugging his shoulders and passing the buck. No real resolution: no moral conclusion. And barely anything to raise an adult eyebrow in the entire story.
I understand that this isn’t the best of this author’s work. I’d certainly think twice about trying any of his other books.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Yes, it is available on Amazon and the like but really: after reading this why would you want to go and buy it?