20 January 2009

THE LOST LIBRARY OF DIMITRIOS MOSTRAS (a crime novel)


The lost library of Dimitrios Mostras






The Lost Library of Dimitris Mostras




306 pp.-->




ISBN: 960-03-4413-2




ISBN-13: 978-960-03-4413-4

Kastaniotis editions

http://www.kastaniotis.com/





What does a fanatical nineteenth-century Greek collector have to do with a Greek-Italian bookseller and a group of Italians bent on vengeance? The latter have decided to execute a number of rapists and murderers who have been released from prison, in response to what they see as miscarriages of justice?A man who is ready to do anything except take a risk and a charming woman of exceedingly dubious credibility are just two of the heroes of The Lost Library of Dimitris Mostras, where Dimitris Mamaloukas comments on his characters with discreetly sarcastic humour.A crime novel on a Borgesian theme, it is set mainly in Rome and partly in Venice, where the intrigue is built on cleverly planned reversals, which push the plot forward effectively.



(a brief summary)

In the book, a fascinating crime story located in charming Rome and Venice, about the world of bibliophilia, mixed in a highly flammable and explosive combination.
The lead character is Nicola Milano, the illegitimate son of a Greek diplomat, member of the Italian capital’s high society, and a Roman woman, who has been living with his girlfriend, Daniela, in a spacious loft at the historic center of town, is making his living by selling through the Internet rare editions of old books, a legacy left to him by his father.
An old and rare edition in the catalogue of books he possesses provides the opportunity to meet with a paraplegic book collector, Aldo Feretti and his lover, the fascinating Monique. Aldo is obsessed with the lost library of the historic person “Dimitrios Mostras”, to the point that it has become his life quest.
Mostras was an avid Greek collector and bibliophile, secretary to Ignatius, the Metropolitan head of the church of Rumania. He lived at the beginning of 1800 and, with the collector’s fever in his blood, he traveled across what was Europe at the time, collecting rare books. Aided by his brother, a rich merchant, he succeeded in creating a rare collection of books – which historical sources estimate to have included approximately 12.000 tomes – comprised of old books, rare codices and manuscripts. His library, is considered as one of the largest private libraries of the 19th century, was lost in the course of time without even a catalogue of its contents surviving today.
Aldo believes that the tome in the hands of Nicola Milano is the key to the lost library. Nevertheless, another fanatical collector, Aldo’s former partner and currently, his rival in love, the sinister Sarantis Skouras, will turn out to be a serious obstacle in his way.
With the help of his bodyguard, Ivan, Skouras will also approach Nicola Milano, aiming not only to possess the rare masterpieces in Dimitrios Mostras’ library, but also to take revenge on Aldo Feretti, whom he hates for having stolen Monique from him.
In parallel, the action unfolds of a gang (banda) which intents to give its own justice by executing released prisoners (mostri) who have been convicted of the rape and murder of young women. The banda is comprised of a policeman, a district attorney, a car mechanic and a housewife whose daughters were the victims of such crimes. Their story becomes entangled at an early point in the main plot, as the mysterious death of Daniela attracts the interest of the banda.
With the help of his neighbor and long time friend, Gabriele, Nicola Milano will work together with Aldo Feretti in locating the library. Milano will fall in love with Monique, with whom he has a short-lived, tempestuous affair; at this point, the action will move to the city of Venice where the traces of the rare tomes disappear.
In Venice, Nicola Milano, Gabriele and Monique will find themselves trapped in the basement of a palazzo and, once they manage to escape, they will fall into the hands of Skouras who leads them to his eccentric Tower-residence.
There, the blows will start coming hard and fast for all the main characters. Each one will be found to harbor a secret while Skouras will take them aback with the news that he has actually found the lost library of Dimitrios Mostras.
While he is showing off his treasures to Nicola Milano at the estate’s tower, -where he has had built his unique and spectacular library, the ideal library, based on Jeremy Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon- below, at the tower’s living room, Monique reveals another terrible secret to Ivan, thus turning him against his employer.
Ivan, blinded by revengefulness, will commit an extreme act. He will set the valuable library on fire. A terrible blaze will destroy everything within minutes and Ivan along with Skouras will perish in the flames.
Nicola Milano will be rescued by Gabriele, but fate isn’t done with him yet. The leader of the banda, the policeman, finally arrives to set the record straight. He intends to kill Nicola Milano because of his relationship with Daniela and at this point the secret of the protagonist will be exposed. At the last moment, though, a competent policewoman who arrives on the spot will save Milano’s life for the second time.
The novel ends with the assertion that “Evil is eternal” and the original motto is also affirmed: A man without secrets is a vacant man.
In tandem with the undiminished action, the continuous turn-abouts in the plot and the suspense that doesn’t release its grip on the reader, the entire universe is revealed of the bibliophilia of old books and rare editions.

...................................................................


CHAPTER 4


DANIELA PINO


There is a man walking briskly, nervously, in the wet streets of Rome. Every so often, he steals glances around him. He is holding a crumpled newspaper in a display that he is one among the many, a man who has business to take care of, who has a schedule, who has a life.
Except, it’s not like that.
Pino is a condemned man. And he knows it fully well. He knows that he’s crossed the boundary by not obeying orders, and he is aware of just how difficult it is to escape his pursuers. He needs money, a hideout and a car. He has managed to flee Palermo and get to Rome. He was hoping to find help but, wherever he’s been, they were there. They had dogged his footsteps. They were always behind him. He saw it. He felt it. Besides, that used to be his own line of business up until a few days ago. The ones chasing him used to be his friends until fairly recently. But there are no friends in – what used to be -Pino’s line of work.
Pino is – or, rather, was – a Mafia assassin. Now condemned. Because of his betrayal. And an order has been issued against him from the top. So Pino runs, like a hunted hare.
In the pouring rain, he changes buses at random, takes the metro, walks. Without a schedule. He is uncoordinated, weary, soaking wet. For the time being, at least, they seem to be off his trail. He doesn’t see them any more but he knows it’s a question of time before they track him down again.
Money, a hide out and a car. Or, one of these, at least.
He is walking and his gaze falls upon a Madonella* high up on a wall. He has the sensation that he is crying, as the fierce wind drives the rain against his face. A few steps further down, Pino decides to go into an old apartment block. He is very tired. He will go for broke. He feels that his mind labouring towards one goal and one alone, in a single direction. He feels practically taken over by the instinct of the wolf, the instinct for survival. He feels that he must wage battle in order to save himself.
To kill, if need be.
He climbs up to the last floor, the sixth, and hides in a recess in the dark landing. He checks his watch. Twenty to five. He decides to watch the only door on the floor. The door of an apartment.

*An image of the Virgin Mary painted or glued on a wall surface. (Writer’s note)

Daniela watched the rain from the window and felt the humidity on her as if she was standing in the street. She was faced with a big decision. A decision that would change her life. She had everything set up. Now, it was a question of looking to find inside herself the courage to put it in effect.
She lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. She went back into the past, to her country. She remembered almost everything. Starting with the war, that had claimed her father, to her mother’s death. And then the worse part, the downward slide. As an orphan, she was in the custody of an uncle who soon sent her to some other distant relative in Milan. It was impossible to forget the four tortuous years she spent with him until, almost without being aware of her actions, she ‘d boarded a train and arrived in Rome. Utterly alone, she wandered, frozen and starved until she chanced upon Nicolas who, literally, took her in from the street.
Recently, not a day went by when she didn’t think of her younger sister whom she ‘d left behind in Yugoslavia. Especially since she had realized that there were people who could help her.
It all started with that chance meeting with two of her compatriots at the supermarket. She still hadn’t fathomed what possessed her and made her speak to them. The two women hadn’t taken long to realize what her situation was. They had explained things to her and given her a phone number. They had told her to use it anytime – from an outside phone, not from her house.
Daniela hid it away somewhere and, after a while, forgot about it. Deep inside she believed that things would get better. She was soon proven wrong and, with increasing frequency, her thoughts kept coming back to that telephone number.
A few days ago, she mustered up enough courage and made the call. She spoke with a polite lady. She was asked to come into their offices but Daniela refused, purely out of fear. So, the lady had given her a cell phone number and said that a gentleman could be of help.
She had called him at his mobile number a week ago. She was brave enough to tell him almost everything, at least all the important bits. And now she was mulling over, one more time, what that man on the phone had told her to do. She believed everything was in place. All that was left was for her to open the door. She took a deep breath and looked at her watch. It was twenty to seven. He had left at five thirty. Soon after, someone had rung the bell scaring the living daylights out of her. Fearful, she ‘d peeped through the hole in the door. There was no one there. In half an hour, the bell rang again. This time she had opened the door keeping the safety chain in place. Outside there was only the pitch dark of the landing.
Come what may, she told herself and put out the cigarette. She put on the yellow raincoat, picked up her cloth handbag and opened the front door. As soon as she turned around to lock, a sweaty palm covered her mouth and she was pushed back into the apartment. Daniela thought that, yes, indeed her life was about to change, except for the worse. She wasn’t wrong, either.
He pushed her forcefully and slammed the door behind him. Daniela fell on the wooden floor but raised herself up instantly and turned to face him. He was coming straight at her.
Pino weighs one hundred and five kilos. Daniela barely fifty two. The wooden floor creaks under their feet. There is an authentic wood etching on the wall depicting Janus Laskaris. He is holding a tome, a manuscript most likely, and casts a slightly worried and uptight look on the scene taking place before him. He gives an impression of being anguished over these two souls who, in a matter of seconds, will pit themselves against one another savagely, almost absurdly.
Logic is absent from this apartment at the heart of Rome, at a quarter to seven in the afternoon. Logic has fled Pino’s mind. Daniela is distraught with anxiety as their gazes lock.
A stranger.
A huge man.
I ‘ m not scared. It feels like I’m elsewhere. I seem to be far away. This isn’t happening to me.
A broad. That’s it. A little broad. She ‘s bound to start screaming. She mustn’t scream. She’s looking at me. She ‘s seeing me. Nobody must see me. When I’m on the job there mustn’t be any witnesses.
If I speak will he listen? Can this giant listen? What does he want from me? What have I done to him?
Daniela. Her breath shines in the hot air of the room as his hands, a vice made of flesh, wrap around her lily white neck.
Pino. Dirty, beat up fingers. Black broken fingernails, scars, cuts, the stink of death. Fingers that have served up death.
Daniela, born a mere twenty years ago. Daniela, with a perfect body brimming with health.
Daniela, who has made real love very few times. And has felt herself come even fewer.
Daniela, who once had a little sister. With tooth braces. Who thought of her as a goddess. And maybe, one day, they ‘ll meet.
No, Daniela is thinking that she can’t possibly die. For all of these reasons, she must live.
Across from her, Pino.
Pino is cruel. Pino got his first slap before he was two months old. He grew up in reformatories and then he went into jail. Pino fought not to be raped and he succeeded. He has been beaten and has beaten mercilessly. To death. Pino started out as a mobster and ended a hired killer. He does any dirty work that needs doing. Up to now, he has never shown mercy.
Now, in his burly, hairy hands he is holding the delicate neck of a young girl with a skin so soft that even a kiss might have bruised, imperceptibly. He feels her hand on his elbow. He doesn’t register any pain. More of a tickle, is what he feels. Her eyes hurt him worse.
My name is Daniela. Don’t squeeze me any more!
Daniela is twisting, she is fighting. Her fingers push aside his open jacket and plunge into a warm woolen sweater. They grab, they scratch and pull at dozens of colorful threads. But Daniela goes where he takes her. Every so often, her feet are lifted off the floor. Pino lifts her like a feather.
Haven’t suffered enough?
He keeps squeezing her while putting out an ugly smell.
She registers it. It doesn’t matter, she thinks. As long as you don’t kill me. She turns her gaze to the window. She sees numerous dark rooftops and the solitary cupola of some church. But she also sees lights, an infinity of lights. There are people somewhere out there. There is someone out there who can help her. To not die. But where is he now? Oh, if only he ‘d let her go!
Pino. A lot of force, not much brains.
Pino, with a confused view on what a human life is. And how much it’ s worth.
Pino, who knows he is done for. Who feels hunted. Who would do anything to save himself. Pino, who has killed before. Who has done a lot worse than going on squeezing this almost childlike neck.
Daniela, who is giving up as she realizes that if she closes her eyes, she will stop choking, stop hurting. She surrenders to his embrace.
My name is Daniela. What’s yours?
The rain outside is falling undiminished. Rome, eternal city. Like evil. The only sound inside Nicolas Milano’s dark apartment is that of Daniela’s lifeless body as it hits the wooden floor.
Pino wipes the sweat off his forehead. He makes himself get a grip. The death-machine transforms again into human. Vulnerable and at risk. He starts quickly riffling through the apartment. Ten to seven.
A house full of books. Pino doesn’t think it strange. He doesn’t have a view. He doesn’t care. He throws the books on the floor looking for hidden cash or a safe. It takes him a while to look through all the rooms. In the end, he sums up his booty. Very little money and a cell phone. No credit cards, no cash withdrawal cards and no car keys. Pino thinks himself unlucky. Damned unlucky. There’s only the girl left. He kneels over Daniela and starts pilfering her pockets. Another cell phone, house keys with a funny key-tag and her purse. He opens it and finds about five hundred euros inside. He gathers everything in a rush as he knows he mustn’t stay in the apartment longer. He spots the woman’s handbag. He looks through it in case he finds some car keys, but in vain. He throws in it everything he has in his hands and takes it with him. By the front door he pauses and turns to Daniela. He starts undressing her hurriedly. He wants to leave behind a picture that ’ll confuse the cops. He takes off her raincoat, her jumper, her blouse. He pulls down her jeans. Then he tears up her underwear and, with difficulty, undoes her bra after spending a moment to figure out how it’s done. He looks at her one last time. Even he, a killer trying to give the slip to his own appointment with death, can’t help but give a slight shudder before Daniela’s naked body. He then goes out cautiously, stuffing the handbag inside his jacket.
The rain stops. Its traces, though, are everywhere. People are slowly coming out from the brightly lit stores. Mums are pushing baby prams. Men are holding briefcases and looking at their watches. Umbrellas are being shut, there is the sound of laughter. Couples are walking arm in arm. Nicolas Milano comes out of the bar wearing his spolverino. Somewhere else, a woman moves politely aside to make way to a gentleman. Pino pays her no attention because his eyes are fixed on the image, the Madonella, who seems to be staring down at him with compassion. There is a lot of things you can forgive someone who’s sentenced to death, thinks Pino.
Daniela has gone. Yet, everything around her goes on existing.
(trad.KMatsoukas)