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SANCTUARY
by Luca D'Andrea and Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor, trans.
Harper Paperbacks, January 2020
384 pages
$16.99
ISBN: 0062897004


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A thumbnail description of Luca D'Andrea's second thriller might be a trifle misleading. Marlene, the young wife of a local crime boss in Italy's Alto Adige, seeks to escape her husband and steals a pouch full of sapphires from his safe to speed her on her way. Her husband, Herr Wegener, who collaborated with the Nazis as a teenager, sets The Trusted Man, the mob's senior hit man, on her trail. Once given an assignment, The Trusted Man cannot be deterred, even if his employer changes his mind.

But the story that evolves is far stranger and quite a bit creepier than we might expect from this plot premise. Marlene crashes her car and is seriously hurt. She is found and rescued by an older man, a Bau'r, a peasant, a farmer, a dealer in herbs, a pig farmer named Simon Keller. (Although this book is set in Italy, the area was historically ruled by Austria and both German and Italian are spoken as is what is apparently a Bavarian dialect that the translators do not attempt to render into English.) Simon takes her back to his homestead and nurses her back to health with the aid of his knowledge of herbs, specifically opium.

Keller seems a kindly man, if a bit eccentric, but he hides a dark secret, one tied to his family history, one that he tries to keep from Marlene. Meanwhile, The Trusted Man is continuing his pursuit of Marlene, but, luckily, not having great success, at least initially.

As the story progresses, it becomes more and more imbued with a kind of Gothic, folkloric horror, though always remaining within the boundaries of possibility. It is this quality that distinguishes SANCTUARY, which is at once a kind of grim fairytale with its origins in the distant past and a chase narrative set in the 20th century (the 1970s, to be precise). Set in an area of shifting allegiances and uncertain nationality, the Gothic events seem far more plausible than they might if they occurred in a more defined setting.

Aside from the minor annoyance of not having the few words of dialect translated, Curtis' and Gregor's English version is fluent and sustains the timeless, mythic quality so necessary to this novel's success. As it comes to what turns out to be a triple conclusion, the spell it casts is wholly sustained and remained with this reader long after I closed the book.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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