The virtuosic Parks, whose highly praised novels ( Family Planning et al.) use restrained irony with chilling effect, and whose recent nonfiction work, Italian Neighbors , wittily evokes that country from an outsider's perspective, has combined both skills and added a dimension of macabre imagination in this corker of a psychological thriller. Parks creates a memorable protagonist: a smug, morally empty Englishman living in Italy who lies, steals and murders without compunction, convinced that he is intellectually superior to his victims. Smarmy Morris Duckworth blames everyone but himself for the misfortunes that destroyed his once promising future: sent down from Cambridge, he was forced to bear the jibes (``pansy/weakling'') of his brutish, vulgar father, and then he managed to sabotage every job opportunity through vainglorious boasting. Now he is living penuriously in Verona, tutoring spoiled Italian students for their university exams. His devious scheme to marry wealthy teenager Massimina Trevisan segues into a seriocomic, picaresque caper during which Morris casually dispatches people who thwart his desires. The reader turns pages in horrified fascination, waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, but Park's's final surprise is the quintessential irony. In the hands of a less talented author, a self-pitying whiner-turned-criminal might be a bore, but so deft is Parks's dissection of Morris's pathology that this taut narrative gains in suspense and surprise and sweeps to a shocking conclusion. (Mar.)
Morris Duckworth, a disgruntled English teacher in Verona, is a man blessed with taste and intelligence, if not wealth or a well-developed conscience. When a wealthy young student named Massimina falls for him, he quickly opts for marriage. After the girl's family rejects him and she runs away, he turns the supposed elopement into a bizarre kidnapping, using her without her knowledge to extort money from her family. As he attempts to keep his plan from unraveling, Morris's deceptions grow increasingly elaborate, culminating in a series of brutal, shocking crimes. Well-drawn characters, a clever plot, and Parks's usual combination of humor and mayhem make this a thriller with both style and substance. Recommended for most collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/92.-- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
A down-at-heel English teacher in Italy goes on a crime spree: in his sixth novel (but first thriller), the British expatriate Parks (the nonfiction Italian Neighbors, p. 658, etc.) turns up the heat, with wonderfully scary results. Morris Duckworth feels trapped. Two years teaching dumb rich kids in Verona and he's still dirt-poor, though what he admires most about Italians is their "stylishly flaunted wealth." The young Englishman mouths off into his dictaphone, scapegoating Dad in London, who physically abused his beloved mother (now dead) and who practically drove the "pansy/weakling" Morris from the house. Then, spontaneously, he steals an expensive document case on a train; the ease of the theft gives him a rush, so when one of his richest students, 17-year-old Massimina Trevisan, whom he's been half-seriously courting, runs away from home with her life savings, the temptation to exploit the situation is irresistible. Thus begins a combination elopement/kidnaping that takes the couple on a helter-skelter journey across Italy (though Morris checks in at Verona to assure family and police he knows nothing). Dexterously, Parks shows the occasional thief and habitual liar, the virgin (Morris's best-kept secret) with the raging Oedipus complex, moving down the slippery slope, turning into a full-blown psychopath who's "far too smart to be a killer" until killing becomes essential and who lubricates his rationalizations with a profound self-pity. The fact that we never know when the brilliant improviser will fumble his moves like "a stupid amateur...a boy in a mess" keeps us on a knife-edge. Parks shows he can juggle with the best of them. His move into the suspense field is atriumph.
Tim Parks is the author of more than twenty novels and works of nonfiction, including the best-selling Italian Neighbors and An Italian Education. His novels include Europa which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His essays have appeared in the The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, for which he blogs. Tim Park is also a renowned translator. He lives in Italy.