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on 23 February 2002
Sciascia is one of those Sicilians who don't like pleasing themselves. His prose is crisp and precise, direct as some glances Sicilian people give are. He does not want to talk about Sicily justifying its people; he has never intended to deny the presence and the influence of mafia, reducing Sicily to an island of dream, where nothing else matters but the sea, the memories of Greek gods and its beautiful women.
On the contrary, Sciascia has wanted -since his beginnings- to stand on the difficult side of the story. That is, the side of those who describe Sicily with the love of sons and still find some pride and honesty for accusing its people.
The Day of the Owl is a book of this latter category. Written during the sixties, it describes the situation of poverty and conspirancy of silence of a small fictional village. When a man is misteriously murdered, the young police captain just come from the north has to struggle against the barrier of fear, silence and ignorance that has led to the brutal act, learning at his expenses the secret laws that rule this land.
Far from being a black-or-white account of Sicily, the book investigates- with its open end that can sometimes leave the reader unsatisfied- the interaction between evil and good in Sicilian society. Perhaps the topic moment of the story is when the policeman interviews the local mafia boss- and gets a lesson on Sicilian life and on the division between 'galantuomini' (good men, sirs) and quaquaraqua' (stupid useless men).
This is not a book for those who want to get an easy account of mafia as a criminal association. Rather, it is a sensitive and accurately balanced analysis of feelings and moods in the Sicilian society of the sixties. To do so, Sciascia uses the detective-story genre and builds a story which is fiction and essay at the same time.
Many of the things told in the book are peculiar to a society which does not exist any more in Sicily. But some of the reflections upon Sicilian culture are fundamental and must be put side by side together with Tomasi di Lampedusa, Verga and Vittorini.
This is the cruel Sciascia, the sharp one.
If one wants to discover the sweet side of his writing- Sicily as an idealised land of childhood memories and never-ending poetry and epics, I would recommend to read Candido (unfortunately not in English translation), The dark-wined sea and Sicilian Uncles, his first novel.
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on 13 January 2003
Leonardo Sciascia uses the mafia killing of a local building contractor as a vehicle on which to describe the ills that, at that time (1961), pervaded Sicily and were creeping ever northwards up the Italian peninsular. "this palm tree line, this strong black coffee line, this scandal line, rising up through Italy and already passed Rome".
Captain Bellodi finds that his investigation is not only hampered by lack of evidence or witnesses, but is being actively impeded by corrupt government influences working in conjunction with those that it should be opposing.
Here he finds no witnesses only fear. Here he finds no truth only lies. Here he finds no hope only despair.
Wonderfully written, as all his detective novels are, it offers no conclusion, it merely states the facts and allows the reader to make their own judgements.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 December 2014
Sciascia is very hard to translate without clumsiness, but Colqohoun and Oliver have done a good job, giving something of the author's laconic, terse, bitter style.

Though the story is rather tame compared to what has followed it, in its day this was a very daring novel -- written at a time when the Mafia officially didn't exist, and was never spoken of.

What Sciascia did was to take the subject at the level he knew it best, that of small-town corruption. He himself lived in just such a town as he describes in "The Day Of The Owl," where everyone knew who the mafiosi were, and nothing happened without their involvement. The arrival of the policeman from the north, with his stern ideas of justice, and his complete failure to understand the way things work in Sicily, has no real effect on the status quo except to offer the reader an illuminating perspective.

This is a dry, sardonic novel, brilliantly written and well translated. Recommended.
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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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on 16 June 2003
In a note at the end of this book, Sciascia explains that he had to constantly trim this book so as not to make anyone identifiable. Although this is ostensibly a complaint against a lack of freedom, it may well be the book's greatest strength.
This is wonderfully economic prose - stark, simple, and incredibly effective. The prose is as clear as the case appears to be, but you still have to see it through to the end. A man is murdered, and the investigation could bring down people in very high places. Sciascia could write a shopping list and you'd enjoy every bit.
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on 16 August 2015
Sciascia demonstrates how crime fiction can sometimes out-perform literary fiction. It's Montalbano plus realism. He depicts a corrupt and violent Sicily in a plot that rings all too true. I can't wait to read more.
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on 29 January 2012
Sicily in the mid-20th century and an honest man is gunned down in the street in plain view of dozens of witnesses - but no one saw a thing. Such is the extent of the fear the mafia exerts over everyone - except to outsiders. Captain Bellodi is assigned this frustrating case and quickly realises that everyone covers for everyone else for fear of being next on the list of the Mafiosi. Until a lucky break will lead him to head of the crime family... but will he survive the consequences?

Leonardo Sciasca does a decent job of establishing an atmosphere of claustrophobia to this lovely rural landscape cut through with bullets and blood but when the book becomes a police procedural, the writing and story become a bit dry. The main character Bellodi spends most of his time trying to incriminate the criminals against each other in interrogation rooms and it's a lot of "he said this, he said that" kind of stuff. If you're a big crime fiction fan maybe you'll enjoy it but chances are it's not nearly as sophisticated as the kind of interrogation techniques used today.

It was interesting to see that people of this time weren't aware of the mafia on any large scale and that many in government questioned its existence. Even when the book came out in 1961 I don't think people were aware of the mafia like people today are. The dialogue is the best feature of the book, Sciasca's writing is at its best when the dialogue between characters is the central focus. Other than that, there wasn't much to the story and it expects in much the way you would imagine it would. One annoying aspect was the inclusion of so many Italian words. Why translate the vast majority of them into English and then leave others behind for the reader to guess what it means? Strange choice.

"The Day of the Owl" isn't the best mafia book out there but does highlight the mob's presence (important for its time), its corrupting hand in national (and international) government as well as local politics, and does all of this in microcosm to a single killing. But it does so in a way most 21st century readers have experienced before in better films and tv shows and books, even computer games, so its impact is lesser on readers today. Certainly on this reader.
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on 5 January 2013
This is an absolute treasure. It demonstrates how one can tell an enthralling story using a truly economical style, cutting away all the flim flam. It is a pity that Sciascia's work is not better known in the UK.
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on 19 March 2014
Brilliant account of the Mafia in Sicily and a policeman from Parma in the north of Italy trying to solve several murders. Very good translation. Wonderful tone of voice. Need to read it more than once and slowly and not last thing at night, partly because Italian names seem similar and so difficult to remember unless very awake; and second reading brings out the unstated ironies and comment on this society.
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on 19 March 2015
I cannot think of a better insight into Italy in general and into Sicily in particular. Anyone who wishes to understand 'il bel paese' should read this book. It is Italy as it was, as it is and as it always will be.
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