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"Those who leave the world [violently] do so with a backward glance. And they leave messages that Ricciardi gathers."
on 9 May 2013
Baron Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, Commissario of Public Safety at the Royal Police Headquarters in Naples, is a lonely man. Growing up as the orphaned child of a wealthy family and living virtually alone, he possesses a natural reticence, his only real "friend" being his deputy, Brigadier Raffaele Maione, in whom he confides nothing about his private life. On the job, he often goes his own way if he feels justice will be better served, while trying to avoid embarrassing his superiors who, in 1931, are closely associated with Mussolini and his Fascists. Part of Ricciardi's professional success comes from his unique ability to tap into the final thoughts of a victim of violent death by communing with the victim's spirit at the death scene. There he is able to hear the victim's final thought, an experience he refers to privately as The Incident, or The Deed.
This seemingly fantastic premise allows author Maurizio de Giovanni to take his mystery novels in new and unusual directions, while instantly involving the reader in the murder investigation. As the author explores, first, a victim and his/her life, and then the lives of the various suspects, he develops a character-based plot quite different from traditional noir mysteries in which more intricate plots develop from complex external events, often with sociopolitical roots. While novel has plenty of action and a full complement of bloody scenes, the plot here develops more from the complexities of his characters and their personal interactions, than from larger, external crises.
Set in the spring of 1931 in the Sanita area of Naples, the novel introduces a series of characters whose lives further develop but do not always overlap with each other, their stories often moving along separately with occasional connections to Ricciardi and Maione. Shortly after Maione starts to investigate the slashing and disfiguring of the beautiful Filomena Russo, for example, Ricciardi is called to investigate the gory murder of Carmela Calise, a fortune teller and money lender. Many people had reason to kill Carmela, but this is a particularly brutal killing, as is Filomena's slashing, which appears unrelated. Several people come under immediate suspicion, but when Ricciardi visits the murder scene to "listen" to the words of the victim, the message offers no clues.
De Giovanni's gift for description applies equally to his lyrical passages about the beauty of spring and the horrors of a murder scene, but it is his ability to show his characters in scenes which reveal their unique personalities which make this novel stand out. Several characters provide wonderful moments of comic relief. One, the wife of a merchant, never has a word of dialogue, but she is impossible to forget: "a homely monster with a mustache a few hairs short of [her husband's] but a fuller beard." Another minor character provides wry humor about Neapolitan family life: The man, sixty years old, has been engaged to his sixty-two-year-old fiancée for forty years but cannot marry because his eighty-seven-year-old mother objects. In this second of his planned series of four novels which take place in different seasons, de Giovanni continues to develop both Ricciardi and Maione as they investigate the vibrant and often violent life of Naples in springtime.