Friday, January 26, 2018

Review of Blood Curse by Maurizio de Giovanni (Europa Editions, 2013)

Naples, 1931, the city is teeming with life, most people living in poverty and trying to scrape by. In the working class district of Sanita an elderly woman has been beaten and kicked to death. Commissario Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione are called to the scene, knowing that the locals view them with suspicion and will provide minimal help in finding her killer. Searching her apartment and placing pressure on the building porter they discover that the old lady made a living as a fortune teller and money lender. Dozens of people, both poor and rich, have visited the apartment to receive prophecies or to take or pay back loans, leaving the detectives with many potential suspects, some of them with political connections. As well as trying to identify the murderer, Maione also tries to solve the mystery as to who has slashed a beautiful widow’s face.

Blood Curse is the second book in the Commissario Ricciardi series set in Naples in 1931. Ricciardi is very much a lone detective, shunned by his fellow cops due to his reserved manner and uncanny ability to solve difficult cases, with the exception of Brigadier Maione, who appreciates his boss’ talents and acts as a loyal partner. Ricciardi can see and hear the final seconds in the lives of victims of violent deaths. It helps provide initial clues, but is also a curse, providing emotional attachment to the case and isolating him from others. His affliction and relationship with Maione makes for an interesting and empathetic lead character. In this outing, Ricciardi and Maione investigate the death of an elderly fortune teller and money lender. Due to the woman’s activities there are lots of potential suspects, many of whom de Giovanni introduces to the reader through multiple individual threads. In addition, there is a second case, involving a knife attack on a beautiful woman. These multiple threads makes the narrative quite fragmented and somewhat confusing, especially near the beginning of the book. As the book progresses these various threads are interwoven and the narrative takes shape, the tale becoming increasingly compelling and entertaining, with a good sense of place and portrayal of social relations. The denouement, however, felt somewhat hollow and overly contrived. Nonetheless, an engaging story.

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