Archive for June 20, 2013

DiSardiniaDeath in Sardinia, the third book in the Inspector Bordelli series, is set in the last few weeks of 1965 mainly in Florence where Inspector Bordelli investigates the murder of a loan shark. Totuccio Badalamenti, a man who made other peoples lives a total misery with his usury and blackmail, has been killed with a pair of scissors driven through his throat.

Meanwhile Piras, Bordelli’s young colleague is convalescing at his parent’s house in Boncardo, Sardinia, after being shot by prison escapees. Piras’s father Gavino, was an old comrade of Bordelli, and he had lost an arm during their time fighting the Germans in the war. A neighbour of Gavino, Pina Setzu became worried about her cousin Benigno, who had not been seen for a while. When Piras investigates  he finds Benigno shot in the head and it is assumed he committed suicide; but later Piras realises Benigno has been murdered. The narrative perspective switches between the two detectives, and between Florence and Sardinia, as they investigate these murders.

Bordelli is a bit of a Robin Hood among detectives and his attitude to petty crooks and their crimes is fairly unique. He spends an enormous amount of time reminiscing, loitering, eating, smoking marijuana, and thinking.  Along the way we meet his friends Diotivede, the pathologist, Rosa, the whore, Baragli, the old policeman dying in hospital, Ennio ‘Botta’ the criminal who is a superb cook, and others. The reader is given their back stories and memories at considerable length, some of the stories are harrowing as they relate to the activities of the Fascist Black Brigades during the war. We get the 55 year old Bordelli’s thoughts about the war and his slightly embarrassing thoughts about Marisa, a beautiful teenager; linked with his longing for Milena, a 25 year old Jewish girl friend, who I assume featured in an earlier book.

When the perspective shifts to Piras on Sardinia we learn about Benigno’s terrible war, and a property deal which may be connected with his murder. The action is very leisurely, and the narrative I found a bit indigestible despite the descriptions of delicious food. This was unusual as the translation is by the brilliant Stephen Sartarelli, who also translates the Montalbano stories of Andrea Camilleri. 

The Italian title of Death in Sardinia is Il Nuovo Venuto, The Newcomer, which is probably a bit more relevant than Death in Sardinia for a book which is set in Florence for the majority of the time. I know these books are written for an Italian readership but the accounts of Bordelli and his friends fighting Germans, and  one account of not shooting at Italian Fascists because they were fellow Italians were a little difficult to understand. The Italian Fascists were not that particular.

I am sure that Botta’s story of saving Rebecca, a young Jewish girl, was repeated many many times in real life by good Italians. On the other hand I feel it should have been mentioned that Mussolini’s Italy declared war on Great Britain and France on the 10 June 1940. In over 400 hundred pages there is only one very brief reference to this war in Death in Sardinia. 

He’d made it back from the war alive, but there had been many occasions when he could easily have died. He’d been lucky. It was almost though he was protected by a star in the heavens. In 1941, shrapnel from a British torpedo had breached the wall of the submarine he was in. ……………

Italy has been influenced by the four powerful movements of Fascism, Communism, Catholicism, and Mafia. Any country that went on to suffer the post war traumas of Mafia and Red Brigade violence will be sensitive to what happened during the Mussolini regime.  I just wish Marco Vichi’s narrative had been tighter and less wordy. He could have made the point about the anti-Fascist struggle, and the inherent goodness of his protagonist without slowing the pace of the story with so many digressions, but despite this I came to appreciate this novel that gradually grew on me.

Not an easy read and in my opinion not an International Dagger winner, but certainly an interesting and thought provoking book.

‘My dear Piras, after the war, for the sake of peace across the nation, between amnesties and pardons, the few gentlemen of Salo who had ended up in prison were released……And, in fact, many of them were kindly asked to resume their positions in the courts and police departments.

‘ Even the war criminals?’

‘In the end, they all got off scot free.’