de Giovanni, Maurizio - 'I Will Have Vengeance' (translated by Anne Milano Appel)
Naples, 1931. Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi is the commissioner of the police "mobile unit" of the city, his age being that of the century (31). Ricciardi is a lonely, silent man whose character is determined by the fact that since boyhood and the early death of his parents, he has seen visions of the recently killed. These people are vivid images to him, and allow him to experience their last thoughts - including, of course, how they died. This fact makes Ricciardi a very good policeman, but a sad and suffering soul.
One man is a loyal friend to Ricciardi: his colleague Maione. Some years ago, Maione's beloved eldest son was stabbed to death in a tavern: Ricciardi eventually found the killer but more importantly, spent time with the recently dead body and was able to convey to the bereaved parents their son's last thoughts of love for them. Maione became Ricciardi's devoted servant and has acted as a bridge between the remote man and his colleagues ever since.
After this scene-setting, the book tells of a murder case that falls under Ricciardi's jurisdiction. A great tenor has been killed in his dressing room at the San Carlo Theatre. Although the victim was, to put it mildly, not a likeable man, it is hard at first to imagine a motive for his death, given his value to the opera company. But, as we meet more of the people who suffered by knowing him, the possible motivations and number of suspects escalates.
Luckily for the grounded reader, Ricciardi's supernatural sense is kept in the background, so the investigation has to continue by more earthly logic. Despite political obstacles, as one might expect in fascist Italy when the investigating officer is a wealthy aristocrat unpopular with at least one of his superiors, what follows is a classic investigation in which Ricciardi explores all possibilities, leading to a double solution to the mystery. The book is more than a "by the numbers" mystery, though - character and motivation are examined in a serious, realistic way.
I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE is a welcome addition to the pantheon of Italian crime fiction. The book is written with great assurance, beautifully translated by Anne Milano Appel, who includes a helpful afterword explaining some of the historical and musical context of the book. The atmosphere of 1930s Naples is conveyed with what seems like authentic detail, and Ricciardi is a suitably principled, charismatic yet enigmatic detective - who features in several as-yet untranslated novels in this award-winning series.
Maxine Clarke, England
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