Monday, January 27, 2014

Review of I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio De Giovanni (Hersilia Press, 2012, translated by Anne Milano Appel)

Naples, March 1931, and Maestro Vezzi, one of the world’s greatest tenors and a favourite of Mussolini is found stabbed to death in his dressing room at the famous San Carlo Theatre.  There’s plenty of suspects, given that nobody who knows him has a good thing to say about him other than he’s a brilliant opera performer, but everyone seemingly has an alibi given they were either absent or taking part in a dress rehearsal.  Commissario Ricciardi is assigned the case and sets to work with his loyal colleague, Brigadier Maione.  Like Vezzi, Ricciardi is not well liked, being distant and direct, relentlessly pursuing cases as if he has a personal stake in the outcome.  Ricciardi’s affliction is that he can see death scenes and the final few moments of a victim’s life and associated sorrows, which then haunt his investigations.  With pressure rising from Rome, Ricciardi makes slow progress as he tries to find a clue that will crack open the case.

I Will Have Vengeance is a locked room mystery set in an opera house.  The story has a well realised sense of place, especially with respect to the San Carlo Theatre, and nice historical contextualisation, placing the reader in Naples in 1931 and its warren of streets, sights and sounds.  The plot is well constructed and has a couple of decent red herrings and blind alleys.  The story seemed to wobble a bit towards the end, but De Giovanni finds a plausible and fitting resolution.  The real strength of the book, however, is the characterisation.  There is a well penned set of supporting actors, but star of the book is undoubtedly the troubled and mournful Commissario Ricciardi, who’s haunted by the ghosts of the dead that surround him and conducts a love affair which involves no contact or words.  Whilst the story is generally well told, I did on occasion find myself skipping back pages or re-reading sentences to decipher meaning, which was a slight distraction.  Overall, an interesting and engaging historical mystery and I look forward to catching up with Commissario Ricciardi in the future.

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