by Maurizio de Giovanni
When renowned tenor Arnaldo Vezzi is found dead in his locked dressing room, the local Naples questura sends Commissario Luigi Ricciardi and his partner Brigadier Raffaele Maione to the scene.
While Vezzi is known as a divinely talented singer, those who know him personally — his wife Livia, his agent, his secretary, the singers, musicians and staff of the opera house — think he’s a black-hearted bastard.
As challenging as the murder is — Vezzi bled to death in his own dressing room while a performance was in progress — the true fascination of this is Commissario Ricciardi himself.
At 31, Ricciardi is titled and independently wealthy, facts he keeps to himself; feared by his superiors for his investigative brilliance; isolated from his colleagues; and viewed by his subordinates as morose, silent and easily irritated.
From the age of six, Ricciardi has known he has the ability to see the last moments of a dead person’s life and know what they were thinking or feeling. He sees only those who died violently and only for the sudden energy of their final thoughts and emotions. Sometimes they appear as a photograph; sometimes as a movie. He sees them at crime scenes, on the street corners as he walks to work or outside the cafe where he has lunch every other day.
Everyone who meets Ricciardi recognizes the deep sorrow he lives with although few understand it. His former nanny, now his housekeepr, tata Rosa, keeps urging him to get married. The closest Ricciardi can get is staring through his window to the apartment across the road where a young woman, Enrica, the adult daughter of the family who lives there, has captured his imagination. While he watches from his darkened bedroom, Enrica is aware of his attention and has her own fantasies about him. Running into her at the market, Ricciardi can only blush and rush away.
The commissario baffles his boss Vice Questore Angelo Garza, whose ambition and position had “been marked by betrayal, cunning and servility towards his superiors. And above all by the skillful exploitation of his subordinates’ capacities.”
Even as Ricciardi and Maione’s investigative work leads to a confession in Vezzi’s death, Ricciardi is still alert for clues and refuses to accept the simple resolution. To reach the truly just resolution of this crime, Ricciardi uses his influence, his connections, his knowledge of the law and his ability to persuade people, especially women, to do the right thing.
This promises to be an engrossing series. The books can easily be read as stand-alone mysteries, but reading them in order gives you the best understanding of the evolving relationships of Ricciardi and the entrancing Livia Luciani Vezzo and his relationship with Enrica Colombo, whose family lives across the street from Ricciardi. The series continues with these books:
- Blood Curse; The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi. In a working class neighborhood the elderly Carmela Calise has been found beaten to death. Although her neighbors are reluctant to talk, a few facts slip out. Carmela was moonlighting as a fortuneteller and moneylender. Her clients included some of the city’s rich and powerful. Her predictions of their futures were designed to manipulate and deceive to benefit one or the other of Carmela’s income sources.
- Everyone in Their Place; The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi. As Commissario Ricciardi and his partner Brigadier Maione begin investigating the death of the beautiful and mysterious Duchess of Comparino, who has connections to Naples’ high society as well as the local fascist elite, the investigators find themselves in a powder keg waiting to blow. Livia has come to visit Naples from Rome and to deepen her friendship with Ricciardi. Ricciardi is deeply attracted to Enrica Colombo for her calm, normal and domestic nature. Her mother, however, is busy matchmaking because she is afraid her daughter will end up alone and uncared for after her parents are gone.
- Day of the Dead; The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi. Commissario Ricciardi is investigating the death of Matteo, one of the many street urchins living hand-to-mouth in the dark alleys of 1930s Naples. The tragedy of a little boy’s death leads Ricciardi to meditate on the fleetingness of life and missed opportunities for happiness. His work and his attraction to Livia continue to be stumbling blocks to his ability to reach out to Enrica.
- By My Hand. The bodies of a fascist militia officer and his wife are found in a luxurious apartment on Naples’ Mergellina beach. The murders appear to be done by two killers.
- Viper. Naples’ most famous prostitute, Viper, is found dead the week before Easter 1932. Her last client swears he left her alive and well; her next client finds her suffocated with a pillow. The who, how and why are a tangled in greed, frustration and jealousy.
- The Bottom of Your Heart. Ricciardi and Maione are called in to investigate the death of a renowned surgeon who fell to his death from his office window.
- Glass Souls. Commissario Ricciardi is sinking in the abyss of his own isolation. He has refused the love of two women — Enrica and Livia — and the friendship of his partner, Maione. The beautiful, haughty Bianca, countess of Roccaspina, pleads with him to investigate a homicide that officially closed months earlier. But in the tense atmosphere of 1930s Itality where the Fascist monitor the police closely, an unauthorized investigation could lead to immediate dismissal and possible criminal charges.
The Author: Maurizio De Giovanni (1958 – )
Maurizio De Giovanni lives and works as a banker in Naples. He entered a short story writing competition in 2005 for unpublished authors with a short story set in Naples of the 1930s. The story became the first novel of his Commissario Giovanni series.
In addition to his Commissario Ricciardi series, he has written a second series, “The Bastards of Pizzofalcone,” which features Inspector Lojacono, known as “The Chinaman.” These are set in contemporary Naples.