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Equal Danger Paperback – 2 Jan 2014
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About the Author
LEONARDO SCIASCIA was born in Sicily in 1912 and died there in 1989. Like Joseph Roth, Sciascia worked with deceptively simple forms - books about crime, historical novels, political thrillers - and was a master of lucid and accessible prose. This polished surface conceals great depths of sophistication and an intense engagement with the moral and historical problems of modern Italy, especially of his native Sicily. His books are rooted in a particular culture; they speak to anyone who has ever wondered how people can endure unbearable injustice. .
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Even the left wing oppostion party get their feet wet in this mess. Rogas soon finds himself under surveillance by the Secret Service and he has to take a hard decision based on his own stringent principles of justice.
Sciascia uses the characters in Equal Danger to illustrate the political coersion between Government and supposed Oppostion, the failure of the police authorities to pursue a realistic line of enquiry and reflects his own strong views on justice in the actions of his main character, Rogas, a man of principles in a land where none existed.
Equal Danger asks more questions than it answers, but coming from a country (Sicily) where answers are hard to come by, it is hardly surprising that Sciascia challenges the reader to come up with their own.
Inspector Rogas is a shrewd and clever investigator but he is also capable of deep, rambling philosophical conversations on the nature of society, honesty, treachery and revolution. This is where the narrative departs from a crime thriller, police procedural (call it what you will) and becomes a commentary and condemnation on political life in what is clearly Italy, or more accurately, Sicily, in the late 1960s / early 1970s.
The writing is slow and ponderous. The action creeps along and one wishes for some alleviating, gruesome, forensic detail to lighten the mood. It never comes. I did not consider this detective fiction in any sense. With a few edits it could have been a paper given at a seminar on the nature of state power and revolution. In my view the author intended a forceful presentation of his demand for justice.
I can only go 2 stars. But having discovered Leonardo Sciascia, I will go on to read The Moro Affair where I hope to find a more forensic, factual and readable account of the kidnapping of the Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. For a definitive history and analysis of the Mafia try Excellent Cadavers by Alexander Stille.
Sciascia's stand against corruption may have been brave -- but I suspect he was not pestered by the subjects of his criticism because most of his targets didn't understand what he was talking about -- or got bored reading.
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In any event, the previous reviews for "Equal Justice" have pretty well nailed the essence. I would only add that Leonardo Sciascia is a pleasure to read in any format and this book is no exception.
As the movie Casablanca draws to a close, Capt. Renault witnesses the shooting of a German officer by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Capt. Renault turns to his minions and says "Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects."
In Leonardo Sciascia's "Equal Danger" the command to round up the usual suspects comes at the beginning of the story. Local District Attorney Vargas has just been murdered and Inspector Rogas is put in charge of the investigation. Soon after Rogas begins this investigation two judges are murdered. Rogas senses that the victims and the murders are related but he is soon told to forget his investigation and round up the usual revolutionary suspects. Despite this admonition, and while paying lip service to his orders, Rogas' investigation continues. He identifies a suspect and sets out in pursuit.
Although this sounds like a fairly straightforward detective story, in the hands of Leonardo Sciascia it is anything but formulaic. Sciascia, born in Sicily in 1921, sets Equal Danger (as he states in a note to this book) in an imaginary country; "a country where ideas no longer circulate, where principles - still proclaimed, still acclaimed - are made a daily mockery." However, Sciascia also acknowledged that one can think of the story as being set in the Italy or Sicily of the 1970s. For Sciascia, the Italy (and Sicily) of the 1970s was a time when the center fell apart, when political instability proved a wonderful breeding ground for a dysfunctional triad of terror (the Red Brigades), crime (the Mafia) and corruption (the entire political and judicial system). It was a place where those three pillars of dysfunction seemed to share more common interests than differences and where cynical, if short-lived alliances amongst the power elite created the cold inside game that Delillo describes as a grand conspiracy.
Rogas is aware of the existence of the closed inside game and seems determined to beat it. He spots the surveillance placed on him and seems to believe his skeptical nature will keep him out of trouble. Rogas is clever, to be sure. He can cite Rousseau, Diderot, and Montaigne, much to the surprise of erudite witnesses seeking to speak down to a lowly inspector. But, as Sciascia writes of Rogas as the book progresses, "one can be cleverer than another, not cleverer than all others". The result of the investigation stunned me. I sat there reading and asked myself, "did Sciascia really do that?" I won't reveal a key plot element but simply say that this surprise took "Equal Danger" beyond the detective genre and into another realm of fiction altogether.
While "Equal Danger" begins like a straightforward detective story the reader is aware almost immediately that he/she will be taken down a less traveled road during the story. However, the path Sciascia does take truly took me by surprise. "Equal Danger", ultimately, is one of those few books I may enjoy reading again. Recommended. L. Fleisig