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Mary Whipple (New England)

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The Door
The Door
by Magda Szabo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “Emerence was born Mephisto, utterly perverse.”, 1 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Door (Paperback)
Magda Szabo (1917 – 2007), one of Hungary’s most celebrated authors, lays bare her own values and her soul in The Door, a rich and intensely intimate examination of the relationship between a character named Magdushka, an author whose point of view controls this novel, and Emerence, her housekeeper-servant. As suggested by the choice of the main character’s name and occupation, much of the story here parallels aspects obvious from the author’s own biography, and she has admitted in an interview that much of the content here is based on similar experiences from her own life.

Author Szabo, born in 1914, lived through World War II, the Soviet Hungarian People’s Republic, and the Stalinist Era in the early 1950s, during which time she and her husband were writing but not publishing their books. After the revolution in 1956, censorship declined, and she published her first novel to great acclaim in 1958, winning the Attila Jozsef Prize in 1959. The excitement of this achievement is duplicated in The Door when Magdushka also wins her first prize, and it is this event, one of the climactic moments of the book, which allows the reader to get a sense of the late 1950s in which the action takes place. By playing with time and compressing it, the author achieves a greater flexibility with the action, removes it from the real chronology of Hungarian history, and focuses completely on the universal human qualities of the characters, especially Magdushka and Emerence.

In a brief opening chapter, Magdushka, now in old age, describes the continuing nightmare which has loomed over her adult life. In it she is behind the front door of her own house, unable to open it for rescuers and unable to call for help. She sees parallels between this nightmare and her experiences with Emerence at the climax of their relationship many years earlier. Through all the ups and downs of everyday life, Magdushka and Emerence, have forged a relationship which varies from feelings of genuine friendship to Magdushka’s occasional belief that Emerence is related to Mephisto, and as Magda Szabo, the author, drops hints throughout the novel of some of the horrors that Emerence has faced, the reader becomes sympathetic toward her even as Emerence herself scorns that kind of sympathy. When Emerence becomes ill and still refuses to answer the door, Magdushka promises to obey Emerence’s directives if she is admitted.

And therein lies the essence of this novel, which communicates directly with the reader because most readers would also have acted as Magdushka does when faced with the horrors Magdushka faces. Her horrified awareness that nothing can fix the damage done when actions made with the best intentions have disastrous results, brings home universal truths to the reader. The conflicts raised about the nature of promises and trust, about how much autonomy any individual should be granted to make decisions about her life, and about the nature of guilt and how and whether one must atone, come powerfully to life. The book, which repeats much of the opening chapter in its conclusion, is a brilliant commentary on the circle of life and its ineffable complexities.

I is For Isobel (Text Classics)
I is For Isobel (Text Classics)
by Amy Witting
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “You could have your face altered, change your country and your language, but in the end you would resurrect yourself.", 14 Jan. 2016
Though Amy Witting (1918 – 2001), has often been compared to her Australian contemporaries like Elizabeth Jolley and Thea Astley because of her interest in “intimate psychological spaces” and in the lives of women, she has remained unknown to most of the world outside Australia until recently. Now, with this newly reprinted novel, she may find an audience here in the US, too. I for Isobel, written in 1979 and first published in Australia in 1989, focuses on a tough main character, a child who fills the novel with a kind of mental violence against both herself and those who “cross” her, as she endures a coming-of-age essentially alone. All her possible role models – parents, teachers, family, and contemporaries – damage her more than aid her as she grows up.

The one area in which Isobel is able to achieve some kind of escape and happiness is through books. Even as a nine-year-old, she is a voracious reader, and the reading gives her a kind of personal outlet, too, when she soon turns her attention to her own writing. As Isobel matures, she attends schools which develop some of her skills, though there is no possibility of her continuing school after graduation. She continues to read voraciously, discussing what she is reading with literary acquaintances and coming to new understandings. Unfortunately, she has been so damaged by her upbringing that she has little awareness of how to communicate with people her own age on an emotional level, and though she would love to share a true friendship with someone of either sex, she regularly says and does the wrong thing, even to those who would like to know her.

“I want to be one of the crowd,” she admits, but she has so many needs – for a real mother, father, and family – to fill the life-long void in her life – that her social clumsiness sometimes hurts others, and she remains forlorn, though determined not to give up. Not surprisingly, it is through issues of love that she begins to realize how much her friends’ problems sometimes resemble her own. As Isobel slowly begins thinking beyond the specifics of her day-to-day life, she comes to conclusions about the grand themes of life, death, friendship, creativity, and social responsibility. Her reading and her personal explorations begin to bear fruit. Surprise twists at the end of the book give a sense of true perspective and make Isobel feel real, giving depth to the author’s point of view and expanding the themes.

Ultimately, the author’s astute psychological realism leads the reader to believe that much of the novel is autobiographical, and a quick look at Wikipedia’s biography of Witting shows that this is possible. After its slow and simply written start, the book becomes the sophisticated study one would expect of an acknowledged “masterpiece.” Avoiding the sentimentality which would have spoiled this analytical study, the author creates a flawed and sometimes frightening female character who nevertheless becomes sympathetic, and many readers will be anxious to continue Isabel’s story by reading its sequel, Isabel on the Way to the Corner Shop.

by Kevin Barry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.52

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “How many more times are they going to ask me to come on the [effing] Muppet Show?”, 14 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Beatlebone (Hardcover)
On his way to Dorinish, the tiny Irish island which he bought ten years before, John Lennon, now thirty-seven, is in the midst of a personal crisis. It is 1978, and the Beatles have not been together for eight years. Lennon has watched his first marriage crumble and his son Julian disappear from his life. His second marriage, to Yoko Ono in 1969, has endured a separation of eighteen months. He has not written any music since 1975, and he feels as if he has lost his way, both musically and personally, but he now feels that if he can get away and spend time alone for only three days on Dorinish, that he might become newly inspired.

Author Kevin Barry, who has shared some of Lennon’s own experiences, from living in Liverpool for two years (“one of the most sentimental cities on earth,”) to traveling to Lennon’s island, comes as close to illustrating the idea of “channeling” as it may be possible for an author to get, and in his hands, Lennon becomes real on all levels – his hopes, dreams, insecurities, frustrations, and even his arrogance as he returns to Ireland from New York. Lennon has hired a car and driver, Cornelius O’Grady, whose primary job is to get Lennon to the island while avoiding the press, and in O’Grady, Barry has also created one of the great literary characters, endowed with consummate charm, wild humor, a sense of irony, and an appreciation of nature’s “magic,” the perfect foil for Lennon with his intense self-analysis.

Miserable weather and atmosphere, described in bleak but nevertheless lyrical passages, lead to complications and cause several delays for the trip to the island. On one occasion, Cornelius persuades Lennon to play the role of his cousin Kenny and, in disguise appear at a small, strictly local pub, where the next morning he does not remember singing. On another occasion, they stay at a local hotel in Achill, run by a “guru” who conducts “rants” for those who have already done Primal Scream Therapy. Frustrated, Lennon escapes, later occupying a cave overnight and talking with a seal. Gradually, through these mystical experiences, he begins to feel some of his lost inspiration.

Barry spent much time studying Lennon’s intonations and speech patterns, some of which appear here in Lennon’s poor grammar. Barry also identifies with Lennon’s search for answers to the mysteries of life with all its supernatural elements, asking himself, “How do you bring up the fact of ghosts in reasonable company, especially the reasonable company of one’s readers?” The conclusion, which is a bit weaker than the rest of the novel, suggests that despite the opportunities which Lennon believes have opened to him on this trip, and despite the new understandings which Barry suggests Lennon has come to, that his hopes of creating something new and exciting will be dashed. Lennon never produced the “Beatlebone” album which he sketched out – or any other new album. Insightful, atmospheric, and filled with lyrical, vibrantly descriptive, and often vulgar language, Beatlebone will warm the hearts of those who love Irish novels while also fascinating those who have always been fans of the Beatles.

Turtleface and Beyond
Turtleface and Beyond
by Arthur Bradford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I was lucky because William used an old-fashioned gun meant for hunting squirrels, and his aim was poor.”, 12 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Turtleface and Beyond (Hardcover)
With an opening story which feels like a bizarre, twisted, and darkly humorous version of Deliverance, O. Henry Award-winner Arthur Bradford turns not just this plot on its head but every other plot in every other story in this collection. These sometimes interconnected stories feature a young, naïve speaker, usually identified as “Georgie,” who seems born without a sense of caution, someone who has no ability to predict disasters as he enthusiastically follows his imagination or heart without a glance backward – or forward. Few readers will be able to resist this character, whose heart is in the right place though he lives on a completely different plane from the rest of the world.

In the title story, “Turtleface,” Georgie encourages friend Otto to do a daring dive into a river, but Otto does not come up. Georgie attempts a rescue and is relieved when Otto breathes. Unfortunately, relief comes too soon – Otto has hit a small snapping turtle upon landing in the water, breaking its shell while smashing his own face. The complications in Georgie’s life multiply exponentially when finds himself blamed for the accident. “Cold Feet,” takes place in an old farmhouse in Burlington, Vermont, where the unnamed main character, like Georgie in personality lives in a commune and eventually befriends William, an elderly hermit who lives alone in a shack nearby. Once he cannot resist the chance to play a practical joke, and again it backfires.

Other stories become even more “far out.” “Lost Limbs” features a girl who is missing an arm, a man who hauls discarded Christmas trees who loses his leg in a wood chipper, and a man, furious because they have run over his cat, and who decides to punish them both. “The Box” describes Georgie’s ownership of a house which he bought with the insurance money from losing his foot. This house has a huge metal box in the backyard which he is forbidden to touch. Sometimes it is very hot, sometimes it hisses, and sometimes he hears voices inside, until a big storm changes the picture. One of the funniest stories is “Snakebite, in which a man flags down a car which is late going to a wedding. The man claims to have been bitten by a poisonous snake, and that he needs immediate help. Georgie and his friends take him to the wedding with them to get that help.

These and the other stories in the collection are obviously written by a young author of enormous originality and talent, and it is difficult to imagine any other author coming up with the sheer number of wacky – even bizarre – plot twists that one finds here. Georgie shows the world how much he enjoys being alive, day by day, and every reader will admire him for that. By the end of the collection, readers will be so involved with Georgie and his problems that he becomes “real,” though it is impossible to imagine how he will continue to survive without losing either his enthusiasm or his life.

by Christopher Nicholson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “Love was a migratory phenomenon, not to be controlled by human laws, any more than a migratory bird…”, 5 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Winter (Paperback)
(4.5 stars) In this dramatic and illuminating fictionalized biography of author Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928), Christopher Nicholson recreates a period of Hardy’s life which contained both the most bitter disappointment and the most fantastic personal excitement. At age eighty-four, Hardy is regarded as the wealthiest writer in England, but he is unable to focus on a new book and now writes only poems, most of which leave him dissatisfied. Living in Dorset in a house that he himself designed in England’s rural south, where he grew up, he has remained in touch with the characters who people his novels, rural people living close to the land, far from hidebound London with its frustrating elitism.

Hardy has always depicted ideas and values that are in sharp contrast with those of the Victorian period –issues of sex, marriage, and religious doubt – which reflect some of his own conflicts. Now in the winter of his life, Hardy wants to grasp a kind of happiness that has so far eluded him. His first marriage (which lasted thirty-eight years) was a misery, and his present marriage to his secretary Florence, is no better. Florence, his present wife, is now forty-five and childless, dissatisfied by almost every aspect of her life in the Dorset countryside. As Hardy prepares the dramatic version of Tess of the d’Urbervilles for a local performance, he cannot help contrasting his wife and her demands with Gertie, the lovely eighteen-year-old actress who has been cast to play Tess. He has fantasies of eloping with her.

Shifting points of view help keep the reader from “taking sides” in what becomes an intense marital drama. Hardy’s point of view is reflected in several “respectful” sections of third person narrative. His wife, Florence, describes her life in her own voice, showing her unhappiness. Gertie, the young actress, tells her story in much shorter sections, and it is partly through her eyes that the reader learns about the atmosphere of Hardy’s home and his marriage to Florence. Though Gertie remains a “thin” character here, her point of view expands in the conclusion of the novel, and it is in the final pages that we get a true feeling for Gertie and who she really is, a Hardy heroine to the core.

Nicholson’s sensitively crafted dialogue shows the ill-fated attempts of Hardy and Florence to converse about long-standing issues, and it is impossible not to blame both Hardy and Florence for their difficulties. Their mutual dissatisfactions are emphasized throughout the novel by Nicholson’s sublime passages about nature in the harshness of winter, very much in the tradition of Hardy’s own writing. As each character looks toward the future and sees how cold and bleak it is, the reader also understands why Hardy believed in “Nature as an indifferent force, rather than a benevolent one.”

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.40

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “What a good thing time does for us. Sprinkles us with mercies like fairy dust.”, 5 Dec. 2015
Hilary Mantel has never hesitated to say exactly what she means, and her descriptive abilities leave no room for doubt about exactly why she believes as she does. Though she is often praised for her elegant turns of phrase, she is equally skilled at stating, in no uncertain terms, her opinions about less elegant subjects. When Mantel’s recent short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher was first published in September, 2014, Mantel found herself on the front News page of the London Daily Mail, having outraged both politicians and the public by imagining a story in which a man with Irish ties decides to assassinate the then-Prime Minister.

In comparison to these remarks, the short story of “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” feels almost tame, however dark it may be. A woman who leads a comfortable life on the top floor of a house opens the door to a man she thinks is the plumber, come to service the boiler. Through some lively dialogue in which the two speak at cross purposes, the female speaker (and the reader) learns that the man plans to assassinate Margaret Thatcher when she emerges from the hospital behind this apartment. As the conversation continues, the would-be assassin proves to be less articulate but more single-minded than the woman.

“The School of English,” the other long story in this book, has a totally different tone and focus. Here a young woman, Marcella, is touring an elegant house in St. John’s Wood where she may begin working. The butler, Mr. Maddox, escorting her, displays a snobbishness and arrogance which sharply contrast with the honesty and desire to please of the potential maid, who comes from a foreign country. In explaining her dismissal from her previous employment, the maid describes the obnoxious behavior of some of the insulting upperclass teenage children for whom she has had to work and the almost equally demeaning behavior of the butler to whom she is telling this brutal story as Mantel pillories the pretensions of those who see themselves as “special.”

These two stories bookend eight shorter stories about a variety of subjects, many of them treated in a darkly humorous or satiric way. “Sorry to Disturb” takes place in Saudi Arabia in1983, and shows the isolation of a British woman surrounded by Saudi women and her inability to understand the culture. “Comma” is the tale of two young girls who hide under a bush in the garden of a very elegant London home, hoping to catch a glimpse of a severely handicapped child who lives there, a child whom one of the girls describes as looking like “a comma.” Through her use of dialogue, Mantel conveys the inner stories of her characters as they respond with feeling to the stories within her stories. Death, marriage, infidelity, psychiatric ailments, the writing life, book clubs, and issues of adolescence, among other themes in this uneven collection, dominate these stories, but Mantel writes with a rapier in her hand, often turning a seemingly innocent scene into a scene of dark twists and sometimes ironic humor.

After the Circus: A Novel (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
After the Circus: A Novel (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Price: £8.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “If I could go back in time and return to that room, I would change the [light]bulb.”, 3 Dec. 2015
Through Jean, the young man in this quotation from After the Circus, French author Patrick Modiano constantly muses about the past as it intrudes on the present, replete with imperfect and incomplete memories as they appear and reappear from Jean’s life throughout this novel. Jean’s present has always been colored and perhaps distorted by the emotions of his past, and he worries that if he obsesses too much about the past and tries to rethink it too often, that he may lose whatever sense of confidence and reconciliation he feels about these events.

In the vivid scene from which the introductory quotation, above, is taken, for example, the young man/narrator is nineteen years old, living at his estranged father’s apartment in Paris following his father’s sudden move to Switzerland to avoid criminal prosecution in France. Also appearing in this scene is a “man in his fifties wearing a plaid bathrobe,” someone who has worked in his father’s unsavory businesses for years and who also lives within the same house in Paris. The third person present is girl in a fur coat, someone to whom Jean has been attracted after both of them have faced police interrogation on the same day in connection with a serious crime. Years later, the adult narrator still remembers this troubling scene, and he would like to achieve some finality regarding the residual guilt he feels about his own role.

For fans of Modiano, much of this will sound familiar. Though Modiano has insisted many times that his novels are fiction, they all have direct parallels with his own life, and as he visits and revisits his own difficult and tormented childhood and teen years in the plots of his novels, he often introduces events in one novel and then returns to them again in other novels. Jean’s father, like Modiano’s, has been involved in big-time crime syndicates throughout Europe, so it is not surprising that the police investigate Jean. The girl in the fur coat, also interrogated, is attracted to him, but there are questions about her - who she really is, what her interest is in Jean, what is in the suitcases she carries, who are the older friends to whom she introduces Jean, why is she so anxious to join Jean on a trip to Rome, and other issues.

When Jean and the girl are asked by one of her mysterious friends to “play a little joke” on someone who will be “wearing riding breeches,” the friends make Jean an offer he really cannot refuse, and the novel hits its high point in terms of the action. The aftereffects are just as dramatic, as many of the questions begin to get answered. The conclusion presages the direction which Jean (and Modiano) will take in the future, a direction which will feel familiar to those who have enjoyed Modiano’s elusive novels, and his autobiography, Pedigree.

One Out of Two: A Novel
One Out of Two: A Novel
Price: £10.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “The secret is in the needle after the scissors have made their cut.", 21 Nov. 2015
One out of Two, an early (1994) novel by award-winning Mexican author Daniel Sada, has just been published in English translation for the first time – a tragicomic classic which joins Almost Never (2008) as one of only two books by Sada available in English, to date. Though the book appears, at first, to be a simple morality tale, Sada is an adventurous novelist who endows his main characters with more than the flat, stereotypical behaviors and thoughts which one usually associates with such tales. While keeping his style uncomplicated, he shows his characters as they live their ordinary lives and make some decisions which cause unexpected complications for them. The mood is light and the action often very funny, though equally often, it is ironic or edgy. The cumulative result is farcical rather than pedantic, serious rather than lightweight.

The main characters, the Gamal sisters, both seamstresses, are forty-year-old identical twins, whom the narrator believes “are saints: a single pureness.” The sisters believe that if they work hard enough that they will be prosperous, and they believe that they have found success - “if making do with little is a boon.” Working very hard to develop their business as seamstresses and maintain a house they purchase, miles away from their only family, the sisters act efficiently and effectively and succeed. Then, when they are almost forty-two, their aunt invites them to attend the wedding of her son. Only one can attend. The other must work.

The stay-at-home sister resents, for the first time, that her sister was the one who got to go to the wedding, and, as every reader will expect, the inevitable happens. Her sister returns from the wedding to announce, “I danced all night with a slender man of interesting age.” How the sisters manage the attentions of only one potential suitor becomes the crux of the story.

Though the novella is simple to understand, Sada has some remarkably subtle touches, making the reality of the sisters’ love for each other real in proportion to the jealousy of one and the triumph of the other. Their long interdependence has commanded their lives, and the fear of abandonment and hostility are real for both of them. As the action develops, the reader and the twins themselves soon conclude that the Gamals are neither the “saints” nor the “single pureness” which the narrator originally believed them to be. Their separate desires, dreams, and hopes for the future, forged as they are from their noticeably different personalities, surge forth under the stress of a courtship. The conclusion may surprise some, though most will find it appropriate. With this easy introduction to the work of Sada, many readers will undoubtedly look forward reading another of his novels, his much more complex and intriguing Almost Never.

by Simon Mawer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “We did our best under the circumstances. And sometimes we had to sup with the devil.”, 18 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Tightrope (Hardcover)
In his newest novel, Simon Mawer continues the story of Marian Sutro, whose wartime exploits in France he introduced in Trapeze (2012), and whose difficulties dealing with the complex aftereffects of World War II become the focus of this novel. Tightrope opens in the present, when Marian is eighty and the speaker of the opening chapter is sixty-eight, a man who has obviously been involved in state security in England for his whole career and someone Marian has known since he was a child, though they have not seen each other in fifty-one years. Sam, as he is known, has been drawn out of retirement to interview her about her war-time past during World War II and the Cold War which followed. Mawer creates suspense about Marian, someone who “had spent time in captivity in one of the German concentration camps,” though she herself never talked about it.

Marian’s story moves back and forth in time, opening in 1945, when she returns “home,” and it is here that the reader learns, with Marian, that of the forty women dispatched to France in 1943, only twenty-six have returned safely. Fourteen others were arrested or are missing, including many personal friends. Marian herself spent eighteen months in Ravensbruck, a German prison camp, tortured, beaten, and at war’s end, barely alive, and she knows that others from her group died there. As she recalls her friends and their fates, she cannot help wondering if a high-level mole might have betrayed them. Further flashbacks show Marian making some dramatic decisions – in one case, a decision for which she will feel guilt for the rest of her life.

When the war is over, the land-based intelligence service remains in business while their recruits return home, many of them traumatized. When Marian arrives at the family residence in Oxford, she must finally deal, psychologically, with the horrors of war-time: As she puts it, “it’s like suddenly finding yourself on the edge of a cliff, with nothing to stop you stepping over the edge…I was a good skier, I’ve parachuted, for God’s sake. And now…sometimes I find it hard to stand on the front doorstep.” In the last section, the Americans’ use of the first two atomic weapons in history, and Britain and France fear the spread of these weapons to other countries. The Soviet Union, formerly an ally, now looks much more dangerous, and Marian becomes involved in doing Cold War spy work, leading to a whole new series of episodes in a newer time frame.

Filled with excitement and beautifully paced, the novel does suffer to some degree from its divisions into clear but unnamed sections, which divide the reader’s focus during the novel – Marian’s background for the first section, her early days in intelligence in France and her capture by the Germans in the next, and finally her work with the Soviets during the Cold War. The action is complex, but the novel is intelligent and thought-provoking, filled with tension and beautifully drawn and well-developed settings, both physical and emotional. Marian becomes a real person here, however flawed she may be, showing the moral conundrums involved in intelligence work and what it requires.

Bottom of Your Heart, The : Inferno for Commissario Ricciardi
Bottom of Your Heart, The : Inferno for Commissario Ricciardi
by Maurizio de Giovanni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “A heart in love or a heart in despair has no choice but to sing. It can’t do without.", 10 Nov. 2015
(4.5 stars) Maurizio de Giovanni just keeps getting better and better. With this seventh novel in his series featuring Baron Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi di Malomonte, Commissario of Public Safety at the Royal Police Headquarters in Naples, he creates a new mystery which takes place during the reign of Benito Mussolini in the early 1930s. De Giovanni is less interested in the blood and gore aspects of mystery writing than he is in conveying a time and place and the effects of crimes on the ordinary people who live in the neighborhoods of Naples, and many fans of the series will want to read this latest installment for updates on the lives of the repeating characters they have come to know and love.

De Giovanni, unlike most other mystery writers, also enhances his plots with episodes of humor, not just bleak, dark humor and irony, but sometimes the kind of humor one most associates with slapstick or burlesque, and he does this without weakening the effects of the tragedies which have suddenly struck the families of his victims. It is an especially hot summer, and the heat arrives “straight from hell,” bringing with it a gruesome murder which also draws Brigadier Maione, Ricciardi’s closest friend, and Dr. Modo, the crotchety medical examiner, into the investigation.

The victim, Tullio Iovine del Castello, the director of gynecology at the general hospital of the royal university of Naples, had plenty of enemies, and Commissario Ricciardi goes to the site immediately in response. Ricciardi has a talent (and a curse): If he goes to the scene of a violent death and listens carefully he can hear the final thoughts of the victim. This time, however, the victim’s thoughts do not give him any clues about the murder, The victim was thrown from a window in his fifth floor office, and Ricciardi and his team must investigate several possible suspects who are large enough and strong enough to have committed this murder.

The continuing characters who have appeared throughout the whole series continue their lives where they left off in Viper, de Giovanni’s previous novel. Ricciardi, in his early thirties, is still single, living with his tata, who has brought him up, but he is worried about her health as she is now in her seventies, and he welcomes the arrival of her niece, Nelide, to help her out. Brigadier Maione, along with Livia, the widow of the world’s greatest tenor, and Enrica, whose family lives across the alley from Ricciardi all appear here, and Bambinella, the transvestite, who has often provided Maione with information, shares with him one of the novel’s funniest scenes. De Giovanni’s ability to describe Naples fully brings the city and its people to life making this the most highly developed and entertaining novel in the series to date.

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