In the Hand of Dante

Nick Tosches is a writer known for his hard-boiled tales of crime and criminals. His diction is that of the streets, often crude, and his characters are frequently unlikable. The Devil and Sonny Liston (2000) is Tosches’s best-selling biography of the prizefighter. Whether in his fiction or his nonfiction, Tosches is a writer who frequently shocks his readers with violence and raw sexual narratives. He has also patiently constructed for himself a personal mythic persona that matches the street characters that preoccupy him.

There are three personas in In the Hand of Dante, all of whom are its author. The first is Nick Tosches, the character most obviously like its creator. The second is the unnamed poet whose biographical particulars resemble those of Dante Alighieri. The third is Louie, a professional assassin with connections to organized crime. The precious manuscript that describes life’s journey in universal terms brings them all together.

Louie acquires a stolen copy of “The Divine Comedy” and asks Tosches to verify its authenticity. Tosches then travels around the globe in his quest for verification and the possibility of $1 billion. Alternately Tosches, the author, weaves in the story of the poet Dante Alighieri himself.

Tosches, just as Dante and every creative writer, wants to write Paradise. Words, however, can only imprecisely reflect the Logos, the source of all creation. The comedy of life, namely its circumstances, and human nature itself, which is defective, inevitably produce art that is flawed. Every detail of the novel in some way carries this message. Just as with Dante’s poem, one can read Tosches’ book on the literal, but also on the figurative, moral, analogical, universal levels. It is confessional allegory as well as a crime novel.