Genna U.S.A: ‘In the name of Ishmael’

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad
[in Book Reporter]
IN THE NAME OF ISHMAEL (Giuseppe Genna, Miramax Books, Fiction, ISBN: 0786869402)
In Milan, Italy, in the fall of 1962, a small body in a bag is placed beneath the slab of a war memorial to Italian Partisans from 1945. Guiriati Field is the site of the crime. Inspector David Montorsi wades into the mud and fog at the field and conducts the investigation into the child’s murder.
Years later, in March 2001, a character called the Old Man tracks the movements of an American to 53 Via Padova, in Milan. Aided by directions from a boy and a Pakistani, he follows the American and shoots him. The Old Man has been fooled by an exact double. The American is free to meet his contact from Ishmael and proceed with his business. Inspector Guido Lopez is the detective first at the scene of the crime. He is puzzled by bizarre findings, in addition to the gunshot wounds found on the body during the autopsy. There is evidence of masochistic sexual activity.

Translated from the Italian, the text gives the English reader minor problems in keeping track of Italian characterizations. Not only are the names unfamiliar, but the action skips back and forth from 1962 to 2001. In one chapter, Montorsi seeks the child’s murderer while coping with his pregnant wife’s panic attacks and depression. The following chapter deals with Lopez’s dogged search for the murderer responsible for the dead man on Via Padova. Subsequent chapters follow the same pattern.
Giuseppe Genna involves his reader immediately with the two murders and the need to solve the hideous crimes. But IN THE NAME OF ISHMAEL slows in the telling when the concept of Ishmael is introduced. Ishmael’s name is invoked as a God figure, orchestrating international action and subplots. One questions the identity of this deity throughout the book. The Italian detectives chase Ishmael from Brussels to Paris, Hamburg and back to Milan for the clues that will solve the case.
The story involves powerful Italian politicians, journalists, and Henry Kissinger. Their motivations twist into an international struggle for power in Europe. The events unfold over the course of 39 years and conclude with the two investigations co-mingled. Genna depicts his main characters with empathy and feeling. Both detectives show grit and determination, personality flaws notwithstanding. Both men are capable of undying affection.
Each finds his work stymied by upper management for unknown reasons. Both discover that Ishmael lies at the bottom of their search for the truth. Finally, Ishmael is identified to the reader’s satisfaction.
The use of sadism to achieve power is a theme found throughout the ages. Genna’s IN THE NAME OF ISHMAEL gives teeth to the idea and examines the realities of power mongers throughout the world. Good versus evil, the struggle between perpetrators and problem solvers make for a good read.