Posted: June 20, 2013 in Book Awards, Italy, review

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.’   

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – It certainly does sound like an interesting read, and I’ve been meaning to catch up on the Bordelli series – never enough time to read all you want to read. And honestly, the fact that Sartarelli is the translator here earns the novel ‘Margot points.’

  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    Fully agree that Vichi’s books are too wordy, Norman. I’ve only read one,in Spanish, Death in Florence, which has not been released in English yet. and follows Death in Sardinia (El recién llegado, in Spanish).

  3. kathy d. says:

    Your review is good and truthful. These points would aggravate me, not telling the reality that Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, and the information that Italians weren’t shooting at Italian fascists (yes! The fascists weren’t exactly pacifists against anti-fascist Italians), reading about what the fascists did during the war, and the point that is made in your post quoting the book that war criminals were put back into government.
    Also, it should be said that in these days the Italian police can be quite brutal against political activists, union members and others who are demonstrating and exercising democratic rights. I should point out that today huge photos of Mussolini hang in police stations throughout Italy. Not a good thing.
    I think I’ll skip this, being that WWII or flashbacks to it is not a reading genre I like. And yes, the fascist government sent at least 7,000 Jewish people to their deaths.
    It has just been revealed in the media that someone who was revered to have been an Italian hero helping Jews escape was, in fact, a fascist responsible for hundreds of Jewish deaths.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Margot, I probably wouldn’t have struggled on with this one if it hadn’t been translated by Sartarelli. His nots at the end are always a pleasure.

    Jose Ignacio, I am pleased you agree about the wordiness. Death in Florence won a lot of awards but I might give it a miss.

    Kathy, you surprise me about the Mussolini photos in police stations! The man was a monster. That is very worrying, but there are political parties in the parliaments of current EU members that would not be out of place in 1930s Fascist Europe.

    Closer to our time I remember Montalbano in one book wanting to resign after the treatment of protestors by the police at a G8 meeting in Genoa.
    Frankly if Britain had made peace after Dunkirk I suspect we would have had a puppet fascist government similar to that at Vichy and Salo. 😦

  5. I bought this one home from the library but haven’t had the energy to open it yet – it looks…long…and sounds from your review like it might read that way too. Still haven’t decided whether to give it a go or not…THE COLLINI CASE also came home with me from that library visit and has the advantage of being much thinner so I shall start with that 🙂

  6. Laura Root says:

    Have to say I was a little underwhelmed by the first in this series, so wasn’t thinking of reading further, despite the marvellous covers, until the International Dagger nomination. But now I have read your review I think I may give this one a miss unless desperate to complete the set of the Dagger nominees!

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