Earlier this year, Europa Editions, one of my favorite publishers, launched a new series of books: Europa World Noir. They’ve always published crime novels, but with this new imprint they show their commitment to the genre and their hope to print even more. One of their first titles is Maurizio de Giovanni’s introduction to Commissario Ricciardi, I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi (Il senso del dolore. L’inverno del commissario Ricciardi, 2007; tr. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel, 2012).
I want to start this review with a bit of disclaimer: I’m not much of a crime reader, though I’d like to be. The genre appeals to me, for some reason, yet in the few times I’ve ventured into it I haven’t been fully pleased with the results. Too often I’m disappointed by the resolution, which felt rushed and convenient. For some reason, I do not have this same reaction to film. I haven’t thought this enough to know why this is, but I’m sure some of it has to do with inexperience. Having read only a few, I’m hoping that this new imprint will introduce some fine examples of World Noir to me, and that I’ll finally find a way into this world of literature.
I’m sorry to say that I Will Have Vengeance didn’t do it for me, though I did enjoy the book enough to feel some excitement at the next installments of the series.
This book introduces us to a new series of novels surrounding Commissario Ricciardi. There will apparently be only four titles: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall (Blood Curse: The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi is coming out from Europa World Noir in May). Commissario Ricciardi is 31 years old and lives in Naples in 1931 under the reign of Il Duce. Interestingly, this detective has a unique malady, the same malady that afflicted his mother, who was frail and white haired at only 38.
When the book begins, we see Ricciardi suffer from this affliction: he can see the dead, or, to be more exact, he can see the shade of someone who was recently, violently, killed in the moment of death. They sit there, complete with wounds and deformities, emitting the emotion — “the sudden energy of their final thoughts” — they felt when they died, whether that was fear, anger, sadness, or even love. As the book begins, he sees a young child who was just killed in the road. He wanted to go play marbles with two boys, and Ricciardi sees him, deformed by the impact, saying, “Can I go down? Can I go down?” Ricciardi thinks about the sorrow of the young mother, but:
She’s better off, he thought. All this anguish.
As we might expect, Ricciardi is a bit of a strange case himself at this point in his life. He’s basically alone and has dedicated his life to solving crimes, trying to find some way to use his affliction for some good. But the gruesome images and sad insights into human nature have made him distant.
In fact, one of the strongest aspects of this novel is its examination of Ricciardi’s few relationships, all of which develop nicely and left me anxious for the next novels. First, there’s Brigadier Maione. Maione is completely devoted to Ricciardi since Ricciardi helped solve the murder of Maione’s son. Now Maione almost takes a fatherly role with Ricciardi, assisting him in his crime solving but also remaining with him when he’s alone in the office, worrying about him even as he marvels at his ability to single-mindedly solve crimes:
Maione suspected that Ricciardi went in search of death, of its quintessential meaning, with an inquiring frenzy, as if to define it, to reveal; with no particular interest in his own survival.
Besides Maione, Ricciardi has what might be called a relationship with the young woman he can see from his window, Enrica. However, he’s never spoken to Enrica. He has no reason to think she even knows who he is, nor does he care if she does. He’s content to watch her quiet routine play out across the way in the evenings.
Another relationship that begins in this book but will hopefully continue is the one with Father Pierino, a lover of the opera who explains the plots of the operas to Ricciardi, who has never cared.
The reason don Pierino and Ricciardi meet, and why don Pierino has occasion to explain opera to Ricciardi is that Maestro Arnaldo Vezzi, the world’s best tenor, Il Duce’s favorite, has just been found dead in his dressing room. His neck was cut by his mirror and blood was all over the place. When Ricciardi enters the room, he sees Vezzi with his clown makeup, crying and singing the words to the show: “I will have vengeance.”
Don Pierino says Vezzi was not great, he was celestial. “I like to think that the angels have voices like Vezzi’s, to sing praises to the Lord in heaven. If that were so, no one would be afraid of dying.” However, through the investigation, Ricciardi learns most people hated Vezzi, though so great was Vezzi’s voice and Vezzi’s earning potential that everyone did whatever he wanted. Ricciardi wonders what life must be like “if your surrounded by people who hate you, yet who depend on you.”
While the book continues to develop the characters in interesting and insightful ways, I felt it was hampered by a mediocre mystery with, to my disappointment, a rushed, explain-all resolution.
Still, I’m intrigued by this detective who can see the dead while wandering the streets of 1931 Naples. I’m hopeful that, now that the ball is rolling, the series can dwell in the dark places it’s obviously trying to infiltrate.