Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkness at noon, 23 Aug. 2007
This review is from: The Day of the Owl (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Leonard Sciascia's Sicily is a dark place, even while it basks under a hot noonday sun. In "The Day of the Owl", Sciascia's native Sicily (he was born in Racalmuto, Sicily in 1921) is a place where there is crime but no punishment, at least no official punishment. Sciascia's Sicily is a place where the code of silence trumps the penal code and where crimes are seen by all and witnessed by none. In Sciascia's Sicily the mafia enjoys such a symbiotic relationship with the local and federal power elite that they are effectively an independent if unacknowledged branch of government. This is not fertile ground for a detective investigating a murder but very fertile ground for a writer such as Sciascia.

"Day of the Owl" opens with a murder. A local building contractor is shot down with a sawn-off shotgun as he runs for a bus on Saturday morning. Captain Bellodi, recently arrived from the mainland, is assigned the case. Since a sawn-off shotgun is the typical instrument of mafia-ordered murders Bellodi's inclination is to look for an organized crime link. It doesn't take long for Bellodi to figure out the motive behind the murder, the identity of the murderer, and the identity of the man who ordered the murder. But knowledge alone does not equate to evidence and as the story progresses we see Bellodi painstakingly and diligently obtain the evidence necessary to indict the perpetrators. Bellodi's task is not an easy one. In addition to the wall of silence that meets him as he begins his investigation, his status as a fair-haired mainlander marks him as even more of an outsider.

Sciascia takes a multi-layered approach to telling his story. His narrative of the crime and investigation is straightforward, terse, and engaging. At the same time we are provided a glimpse into Sicily through the eyes of a newcomer, Bellodi. Bellodi the pale northerner is transformed during this book. He is at once horrified by the corruption and the code of silence that thwarts him every step of the way. At the same time we see him discover something else in this place that he finds irresistible. This evolution reaches a climax when Bellodi interrogates the mafia Don he believes to be responsible for a cold-blooded killing. There comes a point where the Don refers to Bellodi as a `real man'. There is a lot of meaning invested in that remark and Bellodi is transfixed by it. Bellodi is drawn to Sicily the way someone may be drawn to a dangerous lover. You go into the relationship knowing it will be stormy and dangerous but it is irresistible. I couldn't help but think that Bellodi and "Day of the Owl" was a great vehicle through which Sciascia could explore his own strong feelings for his native place.

Leonardo Sciascia's "Day of the Owl" is a fascinating book on many levels. It works as a good piece of detective fiction and also works well as a keen and loving (warts and all) look at life in Sicily in the 1960s. 4.5 stars. Highly recommended.
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